Living Twice: Natalie Goldberg

From Writing Down the Bones, 1986:

Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.

In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, newspapers over their heads, Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and a pen in hand. They look at the puddles, watch them fill, watch the rain splash in them. You can say a writer practices being dumb. Only a dummy would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle. If you’re smart, you get out the rain so you won’t catch cold, and you have health insurance, in case you get sick. If you’re dumb, you’re more interested in the puddle than in your security and insurance, or in getting to work on time.

You’re more interested, finally, in living life again in your writing than in making money. Now, let’s understand – writers do like money; artists, contrary to popular belief, do like to eat. It’s only that money isn’t the driving force. I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and have no time for my regular work. Think of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money. Writers stay with the first step – their time – and feel it is valuable even before they get money for it. They hold on to it and aren’t so eager to sell it. It’s like inheriting land from your family. It’s always been in your family: they have always owned it. Someone comes along and wants to buy it. They know once it’s sold, they might be able to buy a second car, but there will be no place they can go to sit still, no place to dream on.

So it is good to be a little dumb when you want to write. You can carry that slow person inside you who needs time; it keeps you from selling it all away. That person will need a place to go and will demand to stare into puddles in the rain, usually with no hat on, and to feel the drops on her scalp.

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