On a recent walk, I treaded upon what some might call a ‘babbling brook’ that ran adjacent to the family-centered park. The water was shallow; heavy, smooth, moss-covered rocks made for slippery pathways from one side of the stream to the other. No frogs, no mallards, maybe a couple of crayfish, and only about fifteen feet away from a plastic playground supported by pieces of shredded tires, and bordered by thin wooden planks. Still, it was canopied by an assortment of trees, and daggers of sunlight jutted through the leaves’ crevices. Not exactly Yellowstone National Park, but a quiet (ish) place for reflection.
But then I hollowed out all the surrounding noise, and listened…what a sound! Mellifluous as a cello. The brook had such consistency, such purpose, such continuity. The water knew which direction it was going, and there it went, with unyielding persistence. I sat on a nearby rock and wished I had brought my journal. What a perfect place to write! I could compose the proverbial Great American Novel out here in the partial shade, geese honking from up above, and the echoes of children’s laughter tickling my ears.
Then it hit me, and it seemed too, the water stopped flowing. No I couldn’t. Who writes sitting atop a rock? My butt would cramp up. What about those unexpected gusts of wind? It’d screw up the pages in my journal—blowing ‘em this way and that. Bugs. Mosquitoes. I might inhale a fly. And am I nuts…children in the distance? Children in the distance? Mid-chapter you’d start to see my handwriting changing, first the letters would form into a tight hybrid of print and cursive, as though I were writing faster; then, eventually, the words would be bigger, thicker, darker, as though I were writing harder, thus angrier. And can we all agree that angry writing equals poor writing?
There was a time when I yearned for those peaceful sanctuaries where inspiration was conceived and great ideas were born.* But I’ve realized that real, productive writing doesn’t happen that way. It happens at home on the computer. Long, long, hours on the computer. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, inspiration can go to Hell; writing doesn’t get done that way either. Writing gets done by sitting in a chair (not a rock) in front of the computer. Writing gets done a second, third, fourth, etc. time…wait for it…on the computer! It’s rigorous, it’s trying, it’s wearisome, and unlike the babbling brook that travels in one fluid direction (I’m not taking weather into account at the moment) while real writing takes many turns, and often ends in a place where one never even began.
A first draft of a poem? OK, maybe. Ideas? Yes, definitely. A well-crafted, sweat-over, labor-inducing novel, collection of stories, or other long work? Let the babbling brook be. And leave those crayfish alone.