There’s that famous anecdote about Ernest Hemingway. A friend saw him lying down. “Are you resting?” “No, I’m working,” replied Hemingway. Later when the friend saw him at his typewriter, “Are you working?” asked the friend. “No, I’m resting,” replied Hemingway.
Words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages—the nuts and bolts of writing, working the craft, expressing the art go on even when it appears you’re doing nothing. Thinking is the tool of writing that gets short shrift; it doesn’t look like you’re working, but thinking is an important part of writing.
I may not be remembering that anecdote accurately, but I think I’ve got the gist of it. For Hemingway, the actual writing was the restful part because he had done the hard work in his mind. The mind is the writer’s most powerful tool. It is the well from which the writer draws the waters of literary creation, the fount of ideas and inspiration, the genesis of that novel, short story, novella, play, poem, feature article, essay.
For me, writing a story means walks to the beach to sit and stare at the ocean, or long walks around the neighborhood. Perambulation and tidal rhythm contribute to the building of story. I’ve worked out many a knotty story while watching the sun shimmer on the sea or observing what flowers are blooming in the English garden down the street. When next I sit at my computer or pick up my pad and pen, I’ve got words that turn into pages. The mind has done its job.
Much writing goes on in the mind even without walks and staring into space, even when you’re driving, waiting at an appointment, waiting for the bus. Stephen King solved a problem he’d had with “The Dark Side” on a long drive home one evening. The creative mind never stops thinking, consciously and subconsciously, and thus the writer is working even when not at the computer or without writing pad and pen in hand.
People think writing is easy. You get an idea and you start writing. Not. Mystical thinking, the touched by the gods belief hangs over the creation of art, especially creative writing. It applies well to the artistic geniuses around us. The rest of us have to work harder for that genius.
Writing is not as easy as it looks. Even if the words flow from your fingertips, you’ve already done hours of thinking, the engine of the mind has been busy. An architect designing a building doesn’t haul in the paraphernalia of construction until he knows what he’s designing; the painter sketches and re-sketches; the musician scribbles and re-scribbles musical notes; the dancer works through the steps repeatedly. Before the physical work must come the mental work, the visualization of the abstract sparked by thought, and this is true no matter what your endeavor.