“Writing gives me great feelings of pleasure. There’s a marvelous sense of mastery that comes with writing a sentence that sounds exactly as you want it to. It’s like trying to write a song, making tiny tweaks, reading it out loud, shifting things to make it sound a certain way. It’s very physical. I get antsy. I jiggle my feet a lot, get up a lot, tap my fingers on the keyboard, check my e-mail. Sometimes it feels like digging out of a hole, but sometimes it feels like flying. When it’s working and the rhythm’s there, it does feel like magic to me.”
Susan Orlean is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of a number of nonfiction bestsellers, including The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. All that is surely wonderful. But here’s what I love about her comment most: the way she talks about the physicality of writing and the joy it gives her.
Just look at the words she uses to describe the way writing makes her feel: “pleasure,” “tiny tweaks,” “reading it aloud,” “antsy,” “jiggle,” “tap my fingers,” “digging.” All these words and phrases have a solidness to them, a groundedness that sounds reassuring and real. And yet Susan’s talking about a very private act and one that largely takes place in our head — or does it?
From what I’ve learned in my rambling readings about writers, many of them have recognized — and cherished — the link between writing and physical motion. Dickens used to spend long evening hours prowling about London: walking exposed him to different people and sights, which he found both soothing and creative fodder for his work. Then of course, there’s our old pal Ernie Hemingway: He vigorously advocated intense physicality as the antidote to long mentally taxing mornings devoted to the page: Chasing a bull or two or deep sea fishing was his solution.
All of which is a good reminder that to do the work we do well, it helps to keep ourselves physically grounded and strong. As Susan says so persuasively, sometimes writing “feels like digging out of a hole,” and “sometimes it feels like flying.” I think the magic she speaks of springs from somewhere between the two. How about you? Write on.