Writing time #blogvember

Unplug and write

Unplug and write

I burst into the kitchen just now. Robert is shelling broad beans. I’ve got this idea, I say. I’ve been trying to think of an idea, a kernel for a post, all afternoon. I continue. You know that story about Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan talking about how long it takes to writes songs? Yes, he says in a drawn out way. Well, I press on, I think I’ll write about that, and writing. About how long it takes. Yes, he says again. Not very enthusiastically. I exit the kitchen. Sometimes the ideas sound better in my head than when I say them out loud to you, I say. That’s the role we play for each other, he says.

He’s right. There are moments when ideas are jettisoned for a raised eyebrow. This time, the story about how long it takes me to write something might be more interesting than re-telling a very old story about writing songs in the seventies.

“He said, ‘I like this song you wrote called Hallelujah.’ In fact, he started doing it in concert. He said, ‘How long did that take you to write?’ And I said, ‘Oh, the best part of two years.’ He said, ‘Two years?’ Kinda shocked. And then we started talking about a song of his called I And I from Infidels. I said, ‘How long did you take to write that.’ He said, ‘Ohh, 15 minutes.’ I almost fell off my chair. Bob just laughed.”
~Leonard Cohen (quoted in Telegraph 41, p. 30)

Cohen is reported, and this may be apocryphal, that they were both lying and that Dylan wrote even faster than that.

Cohen speaks more poetically about the frustration of the creative task than anyone; nothing works, nothing works and then suddenly it will yield. It is work that is the common thread. Cohen talks about writing the same ideas for years and years. Turning things over and over and over. Writing. Rewriting. Editing. Perfecting. Working. This method runs contrary to blogging. The immediate. The not fully formed. The sometimes half-baked. And yet good and satisfying enough. After all, I am not going to sing these posts night after night for decades.

What is common to all good writers, is the reflection and the time. Quiet time. Eked out from the rest of daily life. In the early morning, late at night. Moments where all other pursuits are put aside. This is the work. Bringing yourself to the chair. Ready and mentally prepared.


Cohen: But I’m actively working on songs most of the time. Which is why my personal life has collapsed. Mostly I’m working on songs.