Go Figure: Musings from the Mind of Rob Wilstein
“When I finished one book, I wouldn’t write for a while. Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes cold; there’s a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing.”
–Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1966.
I’ve felt that warmth, as I’m sure most of you reading this have. That enveloping just right sweater, pulled down over the wrists, hugging you tight as the words flow out and for just a moment you forget where you are, what time of day, who needs you to do what when. Those afternoons when time is inconsequential and the surprise you feel when you realize the hour. Lucky for you no child is waiting for you to pick her up at the soccer game, no parent expecting a visit. Or lucky for them. Because you weren’t even in the same zip code for a while. Or even in the same decade perhaps. Maybe you were in Paris in the Belle Epoque, or San Francisco in the flower power sixties. Wrapped up tight in your novel sweater, oblivious to the demands of your life, at least for those moments.
Marquez was talking about the benefits of writing every day, of creating a practice not unlike a meditation practice, or the practice it takes to become not only adept, but highly skilled at an endeavor. Malcolm Gladwell famously referred to it in his book, Outliers, as the ten thousand or so hours it takes to truly achieve mastery of a field. The Beatles, he wrote, played small clubs and practiced together for at least that many hours before we ever saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In the summer of 1964, a few months after that historic appearance, I was a pudgy, solitary boy away from home for the first time at summer camp in New Hampshire. With little interest in learning the manly arts of archery and rifle shooting, and unwilling to make the long hike up and down the wooded trail to the waterfront just to be humiliated in my latex bathing suit, I opted for the basketball court, an empty expanse of sizzling black hardtop on those broiling August days. Too old to be a camper and too young to be a counselor, the boys my age were mostly left alone to fend for themselves in whatever way they chose. I shot foul shots. Dozens of foul shots. Hundreds of foul shots. Every day, alone on the court I positioned myself at the foul line over and over again, retrieving my misses dutifully, and returning to my mark. Sad but true. Counting in my mind the results. One for two. Four for six. Seven for ten. And then starting over again. Ten for ten was the zenith, the Holy Grail, my nirvana. Though in some miraculous fashion that summer turned out to be the Summer of My First Girlfriend, it’s the foul shots I remember and how that practice served me the rest of my basketball life.
Later on, in art school at the Art Institute of Boston in the seventies, I discovered the same lesson in life drawing. As painting students, we were required to draw from the model every day, several hours a day, and though I don’t know if it totaled to ten thousand, it worked to turn us into accomplished draftsmen and women. So when I hear someone say they just don’t get it, why they can’t draw worth a damn, I think of those hours.
And on and on. I’m sure you have your own ten thousand hours invested in some pursuit, something unique to your interests and proclivities. And here I sit, still early in the count of my writing hours, waiting for them to mount up to a respectable number, trying to hold the interruptions to a minimum, the arm from going cold, as Marquez said, so that the warmth of writing can take over.