Dani Shapiro
April 6, 2009

On Sitting Down

I’ve heard it said that the most difficult part of writing isn’t the writing–it’s the sitting down to write. This is complicated for many of us by the fact that sitting at our desks can involve all sorts of other things. Paying bills, filling out forms, surfing the web. I recently read an interview of a writer who has two desks with two computers in his study: one for non-fiction, which is hooked up to the internet, and the other for fiction, which isn’t. This struck me as a really good idea, though my study isn’t big enough for two desks. I like the idea of work spaces kept separate for separate activities. I try to keep the surface of my desk neat, and to keep only calm-inducing, non-distracting objects and papers within my sight lines.

This doesn’t always work out. This morning, as I write, there are forms to be filled out for all sorts of things. (How many camps can one child attend during the course of one upcoming summer?) Bills to be sorted. A pile of books, a pile of notebooks. Piles are never good. My datebook, open, scattered with piles of extra little pads and post-its upon which lists are scribbled. Doctor’s appointments. Jacob’s tennis lesson times. Dinner party list. The stuff of domestic life.

For the past few days, as I’ve been getting back into my book and breathing into the home stretch, I have been practicing yoga first thing in the morning, then sitting for at least ten minutes in meditation. After that–without stopping to check email, or pick dirty laundry up off the floor, or even take the dogs out–I sit down with the intention of starting to write. And it works–it really does, to sit down with that intention. I may not have the two (or three) desks that I need for each of the different aspects of my life, but I can set that intention. Once I’ve started, once I’ve gotten that foothold, I often find that the distractions don’t set in. I can check email, straighten up the house, walk the dogs, and then just come back to the work. The work is waiting for me, because I’ve already started.