Some years ago, when I was just beginning to take writing seriously, I had the honor of meeting one of my favorite writers, Ron Hansen, in Atlanta, at a book signing. At the time, I could think of nothing better than to spend eight-hour workdays before the computer, writing. So I asked Ron if he was now able to write full time. He eyed me, for a full minute, then said, "I guess so, but who would want to?"
Now I understand.
Not that writing has grown to be laborious; it's still the same exciting venture it has always been, the same fulfilling avocation I'd hoped it would be. But there is as time and place for everything, and I now understand the value of being away from the keyboard. While Hansen has teaching, I've had woodworking, home restoration, and vegetable gardening to take me from my mental efforts.
I'd always feared that I'd lose my grasp of writing were I not to have it constantly at hand, but now I realize that working with my hands allows me to digest my creativity in new ways. Physical activity burns off the mental dross, even as it allows me, subconsciously I think, to ground my abstractions and imagined situations in dirt and sawdust, in heat and cold. Now, when I rise each day to a few hours of writing, editing, or promoting, I come to it refreshed, as if new to it.
Tomorrow, I'll be taking a new tack on time away from writing: I'll give a presentation to the National Graduate Liberal Studies Conference on one of my next writing subjects, Gerbert, the first French Pope, and the Europe of his time. It's an opportunity to rub elbows with colleagues, to hear about the work of others, and to speak aloud, for once, about my own. It'll be fun.