Today I am at a writing retreat with friends. We have taken most of a day away from the usual and set the to do list aside. We sit in a spacious, quiet house spending the morning with shared writing exercises reading what we wrote, independent writing time, pot luck lunch and conversation about writing in our lives. We continue in the afternoon with more writing exercises, and quiet time to write alone.
It is a simple thing; none of us spent hours planning, and yet it is glorious. We have claimed the time to turn off the phone, to not get on line to give attention to our writing and our voices. I feel everything slow down. I can see the spaces between the words and the shape of the lines.
In a recent conversation with a playwright friend when asked how my novel is going I answered without thinking – I have written myself into a corner, no windows, no doors. I’ve had to start writing in other voices to find the way out. It seems in writing, as in daily life, nothing goes exactly the way we think it will, often not even close. There are all those turns we didn’t take, the calls we didn’t return, the person we turned away from when they were speaking, the person we turned towards and followed out of the room. We ended up in a life we didn’t have a name for before.
Sometimes there are so many possible lives I can barely keep track, sometimes I am on a very slow train on a single track a steady line across a long, long plain. Sometimes it seems the only way to make sense of it is by writing it out, by practicing writing, the way we learn maths, or a dance, or how to cook paella, one exercise, one step, one ingredient at a time.
Make a list of the lives you almost lived.
Make a list of the lives you did.
Make a list of the ones you haven’t lived – yet.