On the Pleasures of Not Writing

September 19, 2016 § 5 Comments

zz Peter New Headshot by Katinka Neuhof

Peter Selgin (photo by Katinka Neuhof)

By Peter Selgin

Not writing has many advantages. You can walk with both hands in your pockets. You can peel and eat an orange. Other fruits, too, become accessible to the non-writer.

When not writing it is possible to participate in all kinds of physical activities unavailable to writers. Swimming comes to mind, as well as other water sports such as water skiing and scuba diving. Operating any kind of watercraft, even a small rowboat or sailboat, is inadvisable while writing.

Although thinking is still possible when writing, it is not nearly as pleasurable. Among other things one is constantly interrupted if not entirely waylaid by concerns of grammar, spelling, usage, not to mention syntax, structure, and style. Writing takes most if not all the fun out of thinking.

One should never drive or operate heavy machinery while writing. Conversely, those who do not write are far better disposed to enjoy operating (for instance) a bulldozer.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that sexual performance is enhanced by not writing.

John Updike, a famous author, observed that “the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.” This is just as true in reverse. The pleasures of writing are so few one would be wise never to start in the first place.

Similarly, though Walter Benjamin tells us “Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas,” I say, “Never start writing just because you have ideas.”

Not writing isn’t for everyone. Some are so predisposed to the condition that, however hard they try, they can’t break the habit. Our hearts go out to them. Still, such people are best avoided. However genetic, their lack of self-control may be contagious.


  1. Though some prefer the evening hours, and even the hours after midnight, for most the best time to not write is in the morning.
  2. Though sometimes I don’t write in notebooks and yellow legal pads, generally I prefer not to write on the computer.
  3. When not writing it’s best to let your thoughts flow freely. Try not to censor yourself.
  4. Choose a comfortable location, preferably out of direct sunlight. If you must not write outdoors, then be sure to wear sunscreen. Just because you’re not writing doesn’t mean you won’t burn!
  5. Remember, too, that like all good things not writing should be enjoyed in moderation. Don’t overdo it. Every so often, just to remind yourself of what you’re “missing,” you may want to pick up a pen or sit down at the computer and stare at a blank document. But don’t write anything. Just sit there calmly for a few moments appreciating the fact that, while you are perfectly free not to write, many others are not so lucky. Close your eyes and think about the poor devils for a moment or two. Say a little prayer for them if you’re so inclined. Or simply acknowledge their existence.
  6. Then put your pen down, turn off your computer, and go back to not writing.


Peter Selgin’s essays have earned a dozen Best Notable Essay citations as well as two inclusions in the Best American series (Best American Essay 2006; Best American Travel Writing 2014). He is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and two children’s books. His work has been published in Colorado Review, Missouri Review, The Sun, Glimmer Train, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and other reviews, and has won the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, the Dana Award, and many Pushcart Prize nominations. An essay collection, Confessions of a Left-Handed Manwas published by University of Iowa press and short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Selgin’s second novel, The Water Master, won the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Society Prize. Of his first memoir, The Inventors, published in April, 2016, the Library Journal said, “It is book destined to become a modern classic.” He teaches at Antioch University’s low-residency MFA program and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University.


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