The Difference Between Resting and Quitting, and Other Things to Ponder

While I was in Vermont, I had so many conversations about writing. Some of the most interesting were about how we choose our subjects, how we know when we’re ready–not too soon, not too late–to begin a piece, and, as the four weeks went on and everyone’s brain began imploding from working so hard, how to know the difference between creating and grinding it out.  This last, by the way, was a topic among visual artists as well as those of us bent over keyboards.

Those conversations continue, thanks to e-mail. One of my friends, Cary Barbour, sent me an article,  “On Not Writing (at Least for a Little While)” by Michael Nye, managing editor of the Missouri Review, who wrote it while recovering from a weekend athlete injury. You can read the whole thing here  I’ll quote my favorite part:

“Part of writing is not writing, when your unconscious mind lets the story marinate and that elusive “it” sinks into the narrative. Part of exercise is eating properly and getting enough rest.  This is a very different thing from “writer’s block,” a phrase that, as my former students well know, I don’t believe in at all. This isn’t claiming I can’t write because of a failure of imagination. This is recognizing that when a story hits a certain draft, when your changes to the manuscript take you nowhere and yet you know the right word or right image or right phrase is tantalizingly out of reach, part of the process is stepping back and letting the answers drift to you rather than reaching for them.

I still struggle to recognize when I’m tired, when I’ve worn myself out from trying to do too much at one time. Hard work has been drilled into my mind, and it’s difficult for me to think of periods of rest as anything other than pure laziness. Rest and recovery, work smarter not harder, etc. You and I have heard these platitudes before. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s from having a serious injury, but I’m recognizing that there is a distinction between quitting and resting, between giving up and giving space. Acknowledging the difference might prevent catastrophic injury. Or making your story not just good, but great.”

I call this having the story lead you, rather than having to drag it along behind you and whoa, is there a difference. By the way, Cary is a wonderful, generous writer who does a podcast of author interviews–two recent guests have been Lisa Scottoline and Junot Diaz. Check it out right this minute at


I have an essay in the November issue of Cleveland magazine. The cover features Cleveland’s Best Burgers, so I’m expecting it will be read by lots of carnivores. The piece is  about address books, but is way more interesting than that sounds–really! I swear! You can read it here (while munching a burger and fries):