The Place Where I (Don’t) Write: Nathaniel Perry

I am a firm believer in not writing. For many, much thinking and planning goes into the time carved away for writing, the things pushed away for the time carved away for writing, or the shed or closet converted to a writing studio, or the yurt purchased for solitude, or the chair made from compressed book wrappers dredged from the Seine to go in the yurt purchased for solitude, etc. I have three young children, so even if I wanted to attempt some of those versions of writerly seclusion, it would be impossible without un-prioritizing actual priorites. And I don’t want to. So in recent years I’ve reconsidered the importance of not writing. After all, when you are a writer, not writing is the thing you do most.

So where do I not write? In our half-clover meadow where the birch fell last year and still lies accusingly across the mow-path; in my June rows of winter squash just testing the air for goodness; on the familiar road to pre-school; in drifts of wild blackberry so thick they stain through socks the chigger bites on my ankles and my children’s ankles; washing dishes; in the tough seams of the hickory I’ve been splitting two years now for warmth; sharing food with family; with friends. When I don’t write I feel most like a writer—someone who, as Emerson and Stevens sort of sidewise agree, orders and makes composite the world he finds around him.

Last week, my dogs, on leash, somehow treed a groundhog, who from thirty feet up nose-dived back to the ground once I dragged the dogs past. I watched the event with the rich pleasure of earth’s imagination. It felt creative just to see it. I may exploit it later in a poem, but it will be sort of like fracking—I’ll get some gas out, some small combustion, at the expense of the moment’s landscape. The not-writing writer in me gets the actual thing, the writing writer crushes it and wrings it out.

Which is, of course, with writing, all you can do; I know I’ve got to sit down some time. When I do write, it is anywhere in the house, usually at night once the kids have gone to bed. I’ll write for thirty or forty-five minutes on my old and unintentionally pink laptop, bedecked with torso-less princess stickers (gifts from my daughter), whose screen is half come off. But when the stove needs tending in the winter, or my chair gets too familiar, or a child wakes up sick, or my wife finishes sewing for the night, or a barred owl’s call marks the hour and a nearly full moon lays ghost snow down on the autumn ground, I’ll go back to the space and time for not writing I’m lucky enough to arrange my life around.

Nathaniel Perry is the author of the poetry collection Nine Acres. He lives with his family in rural Virginia. His poem “from Earthly Love” appears in the November/December 2013 issue of Orion.


  1. I so enjoyed reading and re-reading this. Thank you!!

  2. This is wonderful and something I really needed to see as I’ve been struggling lately in my search to find time for not-writing.

    And I didn’t know groundhogs could climb trees.

  3. I love this! You have totally nailed it. I have often thought the same thing- because I do love to write- but you articulated this thought very well. Thank you!

  4. This is a beautiful piece of writing. :)I just read it over at Bill’s place,

    A lovely reminder to stay present to what is and then try to find its essence …

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