Sunday, July 20, 2008

Drowning in Blogs

A few weeks ago I returned from a vacation in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

There’s a sense of peace in the woods, a stillness that encourages you to search for the same stillness dwelling inside yourself.

Far from cell phones, internet connections, television, and radio, I lay awake at night after turning off the light and listened to the eerie call of a loon echo across the lake.

And each morning I slipped a canoe into the water, barely disturbing the stillness, and set off to explore the shoreline, paddling past lily pads just starting to poke up from beneath the surface of the water and into a hidden cove where the water lay so still and so black that you’d think you were floating atop the smoothest glass in the world.

On walks, I kept an eye out for birds and deer. One morning I enjoyed the sight of a faun frolicking with its mother as the pair leaped through the woods. On another morning I watched a nuthatch bringing food to its nest hidden in the hole of a pine tree. The woods were filled with birdsong, the cries of crows, the shrieks of a bald eagle.

In the woods I found fiddlehead ferns pushing up out of the ground, their stems curled into delicate folds as beautifully carved as the necks of violins.

I didn’t have to hurry on my walks. I could stroll and think and listen to the rain dripping from the newly sprouted leaves of birch and maple trees or watch the cottonwood seeds drift like tufts of loose wool to the ground.

I could hear the beating of my heart and pay attention to each breath and rediscover the rhythms of my body that I’d somehow lost over the past year as I sat at my desk typing, checking e-mails, scanning news headlines, and reading blogs.

I heard something that I hadn’t heard in a long time: silence.

Until I heard this silence–a full and complete inner stillness–I hadn’t realized that I'd missed it. Funny, isn't it, the way you don’t notice something until it’s gone?

Without the constant ring of my cell phone or the musical note accompanying the arrival of new e-mail, silence enveloped me. My thoughts floated and drifted free, and I was able to notice what was missing from my life: time to think without interruptions or distractions.

Taking a day or a week away from your work may seem like a luxury, but it’s not. It’s a necessary part of a writer’s life, a chance to re-examine your work. You can remember where you've been over the past year and imagine where you want to go in the year ahead.

One of the things I discovered as I reflected on the past few years was just how much time it took to stay aware of what was happening in the world. News, blogs, magazines, books. It all had taken time.

And I realized that I had given up a good portion of my days, which otherwise might have been spent writing stories, trying to keep up with what was happening in the world.

Somehow, over the three years since I'd started blogging, the balance had shifted, priorities had changed. When I sat down to write, I worried not about my works-in-progress but about the blog and what other bloggers were writing and how I might explore the world of stories written by other writers. My own writing projects only came after I put these concerns to rest.

But did such an approach serve my work, my writing?

How could it?

To stay in touch, I'd essentially had to lose touch.

So I returned from northern Wisconsin with a renewed vision of the world, a new sense of purpose, only to find more than 900 blog posts waiting for me on Google Reader when I turned on my computer again.

And here's what I decided: maybe I’ll get to them, maybe I won’t. At this point, it doesn't matter.

What matters is my works-in-progress, my writing.

I want to sit down at my desk each morning and re-capture that sense of peace and stillness that I felt in the woods.

I want to journey inward rather than outward.

I want to feel connected to something deeper than the daily news reports, the quickly dashed off blog posts.

It’s taken three years, but I’ve finally come to understand a former teacher's advice not to mistake blogging for writing.

My writing should come first.

It’s something that I'll try to remember as I embark on this fourth year of blogging.

Thanks, as always, for taking time away from your writing to join me in the water.

For more thoughts on when to stop blogging, visit:


Barbara O'Connor said...

Great post, Bruce! Sounds like your vacation was a success! I understand exactly what you mean.

Bruce Black said...

Thanks, Barbara, as always, for taking the time to post, especially given your own heavy writing schedule.

Still haven't checked those 900 posts waiting for me! (By now, the total is probably way over 1,000.) Instead, I'm trying to establish a daily routine that helps me look inward rather than outward.

It's a subtle shift from my routine of the past few years, but enough of a shift to let me focus more clearly on writing yet still (I hope) continue blogging, albeit with a much looser schedule.

That's the plan, anyway. We'll see what happens.