Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dolce Far Niente

As a writer, procrastination is not a welcome thing. Some might label it as writer's block. What I'm going through isn't writer's block exactly. I have three intriguing ideas vying for my attention. So, how, you might ask, am I going about getting them out on paper? Outlining each one? Jotting ideas down as they come to me? Speaking into a portable voice recorder?

No. I'm doing nothing. A much nicer way to put this is dolce far niente. (Gotta love the Italians) Sweet doing nothing.

I find myself sitting down at my computer, staring at the blinking cursor, trying like heck to get something down and mind wanders. Here's a typical conversation lately:

"Alright, so X inherits the car and then.." (the type A writer woman me says)

"And then...wouldn't it be nice to have lunch outside, it's 80 degrees and sunny, just look at that Carolina blue sky." (my sometimes hedonistic surfer dude of a muse says)

"Let's write the rest of the scene and then we can go out."

"But I'm hungry now, and you can take your notebook and jot some notes down outside."

"Well, if I can write..."

"And you might as well bring that book you're reading and get a chapter in because you can't really write with a fork in your hand..."

"Hmm...well, okay since I've got to eat..."

You can imagine how the afternoon went. I sat with my feet up, sipping sweet tea, sunning myself and happily (yes, must include that adverb here) reading The Time Traveler's Wife. Did I feel guilty for abandoning my work that day?

Would I be unprofessional if I said no?

I certainly don't do that every day. As the weather has gotten nicer though, I find my mind wandering a bit more than it should. Sometimes I win the battle and muscle through a scene, other times, like the above example, I don't. But I can hardly call it a loss. Many times, during that sweet doing nothing, my best ideas begin to flesh themselves out. When I return to my work the words I had previously grappled with come flowing out so easily I feel divinely inspired. Other times it takes a few of those afternoons for me to feel that way. It's my process, and I've learned to go with it the best I can.

If I don't give in now and again to the call of dolce far niente, I become a very grumpy individual. All a part of the balance.

So - do you allow yourself a time of sweet doing nothing? Or is it just an excuse to be lazy?


  1. Both. I allow myself to do nothing AND I can use needing a break as an excuse to be lazy.

  2. Send some of your nice Carolina weather and sweet tea up north! I could use some inspiration. Here it's 50's and rainy. Not great weather for Dolce Far Niente.

  3. My dolce time waster this time of the year is gardening - planning, digging, planting and transplanting. In good weather I spend days outside and when it rains I can read garden catalogs, surf the Net for new plants, or visit garden centers.
    These weeks of spring are always a sabbatical from my usual writing routine.

  4. Like many in corporate America, I take the occasional mental health day...right now, my perennial beds are calling me too.

  5. The beautiful weather at the end of April brought out my inner gardner, too. And despite the rain this weekend, my minivan found its way to Home Depot and is now filled with topsoil and mulch, waiting for the planting safety of Mothers' Day weekend.

  6. Wow, it's funny how many of you mention gardening! I was trying to incorporate that somehow into the post but couldn't shoehorn it in. I've no choice but to be a gardener, but it's another one of those places where my mind goes sideways and I can just chill.

  7. Life's too short to be always cracking the whip and writing for me becomes a chore rather than a pleasure when I force myself to do it.