Dani Shapiro
June 29, 2009

On Being a Nomal Writer

I’ve written about balance before. As in, balance is a myth. It doesn’t exist. Balance is one of those pop-psych terms invented to make us feel that there’s some better way of doing things, some easier, calmer way of living that is elusive–but possible if only we try hard enough. I’m here to suggest that we throw the whole idea of balance out the window because everything changes, all the time. Every day is different. Curve balls are not the exception, but the rule. If a writer waits for things to calm down, for the dust to settle, for a sense of normalcy to descend like a soft, comforting cloud–well,that writer may be waiting for a long time.

We had a funny moment in my private writing workshop yesterday, when a student wondered if she would ever be “a normal writer”. What’s a normal writer? Isn’t that an oxymoron? There’s nothing normal about spending days in solitude, alone in a room, sifting through an endless stream of words until a few of them, strung together, make some sort of sense.

Today–my first morning to myself so far this summer: my son was out the door before nine, with lunch packed, water bottle filled, a basketball jersey hanging endearingly on his little-boy frame. I settled down at my desk, the house quiet. I have what I need now–don’t I?

A room of my own.
A quiet house.
A silent phone.
A stretch of hours.
Oh–and a cappuccino.

What’s missing then? Why are some days better than others? Why does it seem possible, some days, to get good work done on the subway, while other days, with everything I think I NEED — time, space, quiet, caffeine — my brain feels water-logged? Perhaps the answer is less in the quest for the perfect writing environment, and more in simply the showing up for the work, and trying to leave the self-castigating notions of balance and normalcy at the door. Every day is different. And there is no such thing as a normal writer.