I had a marvelous winter break, mainly because I did some writing. And the only way I did my writing was by making a contract with my writing buddy Lee. We agreed to each write one short piece a day and send them to each other. They didn’t have to be good pieces; we just had to write them.
When I returned to teaching, I started out by asking my students to tell us something fun they did over winter break. We heard stories of cross-country train excursions, indoor sky-diving, and a trip to India to help with waste-water management projects. We heard about movies and meals and time with family and friends. Finally one of my students asked what fun thing I had done. What came out of my mouth: “I wrote ten new pieces.”
I used to think I could write all by my lonesome. I used to drag myself to the writing desk and dutifully plug away until something not-so-awful emerged out of the mess. And I never called it “fun”; I called it “work.” And I often said the phrase: “I’m trying to write,” which is worlds away from actually writing.
When I enlist allies—in the form of contracts or writing groups—the “trying” part disappears. I no longer have to “try” to write; I simply write, because I’ve given my word. When you “give your word” you are essentially honoring the most authentic part of your artistic self. Your word, as they used to say, is your bond.
Some days during this contract period were easy; new pieces seemed to simply appear with little effort. Other days it might take me until late at night to come up with something, It didn’t matter, though, because I was writing. And Lee was writing. Our pieces crossed mid-air. We met a few times to discuss what we wrote, having lunch in our favorite cafe downtown. This was our reward, but the compensation of the contract was truly the writing itself.
The meaning of the word “contract” comes from the old French “to make narrow, to draw together.” By establishing a contract with a writing friend, you narrow down the possibilities for your time. You draw together your intentions and, paradoxically, multiply them.
Do you have a writing ally? How do you give each other support? Consider drawing up a short-term contract with someone else, even just for a weekend’s worth of writing, and see how it feels to give your word to another.
Strength to your writing arm,