How long does it take for a writer to get rusty?

Ray Charles in the studio
Ray Charles in the studio

I’ve been on the road some the last few days, sort of out of position without my usual surroundings, separated from my writing gear. A Holiday Inn Select may make a person smarter, but it doesn’t lend itself to the writing vibe.

At least not for me.

So even though I’ve kept up with some of my incidental chores, I have fallen behind on my main thing, working on a book.

When you add to that equation a day job, responsibilities on the business end of Caleb and Linda Pirtle and some hours behind the wheel, you don’t find much that kindles the writing fire.

My brother-in-law Steve Howell in the studio
My brother-in-law Steve Howell in the studio

My brother-in-law, a fine guitar player who has worked at the craft for more than forty years, has often reminded me of what Ray Charles said about piano playing.  Ray said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it.  If I don’t practice for two days, everyone else knows it.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Writing is not like riding a bicycle, the sort of thing where once you learn how to keep your balance you can return to it years later and pick up where you left off.

At least not for me.

The writing gig is one that requires constant attention.  One neglects it at his own peril.

But the thing about writing for me is that I have reached the point where I miss it if I push it aside.  It’s not as if I feel like I have something I have to say, something great that the world needs to know.  Rather, I miss it because it has become the thing that energizes me, that keeps me going.

Each situation I observe now begs for a description, raises a question about how the people I meet came to be where they are, came to inhabit their worlds.

Although I have always loved to talk to people and learn their stories, writing has made me a more keen observer of the human situation. Details I would have  missed in earlier days now intrigue me.

Of course, the beautiful thing is that an author can observe something and then construct the causal chain out of thin air.  The real story is no impediment.

As someone once said, “Why tell a good story when you can tell a great one?”

How about you?  How long do you have to stay away from a keyboard before you feel the rust setting in?

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