lengle“Slowly, slowly, I am learning to listen to the book, in the same way I try to listen in prayer. If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right. If a book like this present one, a strange kind of book for a storyteller, pushes me to write it, I have no choice at all except to pay attention. All I can do, as far as activism is concerned, is to write daily, read as much as possible, and keep my vocabulary alive and changing so that I will have an instrument on which to play the book if it does me the honor of coming to me and asking to be written. I have never yet fully served a book. But it is my present joy to try.” –Madeleine L’Engle

My lovely daughters have had much to teach me. But I don’t believe their generation has mastered the art of paying attention. My young students, too, used to tell me how brilliant they were at multi-tasking. “We’re the multi-tasking generation!” a student once tried to explain. “It’s what we do!”

I think that multi-tmagnifyingasking is, in essence, how one avoids paying really close attention to anything. It’s right up there with other forms of self-anesthetization.

If you want to be a writer, you have to master the art of single-tasking.

If you want to have a hobby of writing occasionally, if mastery is not your goal, that’s okay. No apologies needed.

On the other hand, you might try being “all in” (as my daughters say). Whether you’re writing a poem, or a novel, or pursuing some other passion, the first step is to practice devoting your full attention to it.

5 replies
  1. awritersalchemy
    awritersalchemy says:

    I am giving a presentation to students at Annie’s dorm this evening — about writing generally and about writing the essay in particular. Freaked out. I decided that I would–at least–tell Annie what I think is important, my five or six big writing and life tips, and this is the first. Thanks for the thumbs up!

  2. Carolynne Harris
    Carolynne Harris says:

    I have never seen this Madeleine L’Engle Title, I have everyone of her books, so It is new or I have it and must look in the “Madeleine” bookcase. She remains the author who saved me in so many ways. Yes, Pay Attention, my mantra and sometimes I need re-reminding – thank you for posting. Something Good to read today. Can’t wait to hear about your “dorm” talk. Love C


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