Shaun Levin

The Delicious Hour Before Writing

In Writing on November 3, 2011 at 9:07 am

The delicious hour before you sit down to write. Those minutes filled with anticipation. The story or the novel or the poem is waiting. So you make your coffee, prepare your breakfast, kiss whoever needs to be kissed, clear whatever needs to be cleared from the desk, the table, the armchair you sit on in order to do what you do best. What you love to do. That hour of anticipation.

You might be in the bath, and while you lie in the bath – reading, listening to music, making lists in your head – you realise that at some point soon, after you’ve dried yourself and got dressed and taken the plates from dinner off the dinner table and put them in the sink, you will sit down to write, and those minutes building up to writing take on a kind of glow, a preciousness, as if the world is about to be created anew, as if chaos had never existed.

During those periods when we write every day, when we know that there’ll be a time in every day when we’ll sit down to write, we have that hour or two leading up to sitting down where the world is in transformation, where we are no longer in it, when we’re on our way to somewhere else, away from the bath-tub, the chores, the people who need to be kissed… and yet it is thanks to this hour, and the hour or so of writing that comes after it, that we feel more wholly in the world.

But take me back to that hour. The hour in which we have to do stuff, finish stuff, get stuff out of the way so that we can write. It’s an hour of stretching, of anticipation: a time that is so completely ours, a time when we are in the process of betraying those around us, disappearing from them. The hour of transition. As if the body knows that it is about to write, about to be rewarded, and our senses become heightened. It is harder to wound us in that hour. If we are certain that we are going to write, we have the strength and the armour of a warrior. Of a creator. Our creation needs us. We are being called. Maybe that is why it is scary to do it every day. All this disappearing and then having to reappear, to resurface after our hour or so of creation… to solve problems, to go to the gym, to negotiate relationships. Sometimes it’s enough to make one run away from the page and the pen.

But when we are in that hour, there is no turning back. We know we are in it because time has made it possible for us to write, we have been able to visualise the moment when we’ll sit down at the table and open our notebook (or do it standing up like Philip Roth and Nabokov, or get back into bed like Twain). Everything slows down. We are here and we are not here. We are invisible and we are invincible. We are getting ready to fly. Something unseen in the subconscious is making its way to the surface. In that hour – so rare, so rare – the entire universe is making room for us to write.

  1. Delicious post! And you’re right about how time can feel flexible. ‘the entire universe is making room for us to write’ – going to treasure this phrase.

    • Thanks, Sarah. And then there are those times – yuck! – when time feels so rigid and stingy and the universe is ganging up against us… must think of strategies for those moments

  2. I love the anticipation, the excitement of getting ready to write. The writing wont always wait for me though, and I have to stop and scribble down a phrase. Sometimes it’s more like a headlong rush to the keyboard.

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