(Another in a series of posts about the elusive art and practical process of writing, by a total novice.)
Rituals. Not every writer has the luxury of having their words flow unbidden from a vast imagination through skillful hands into complete and perfect works of literature –or so I’ve heard. Most people find difficulty pulling ideas from a total vacuum against the pressure of self-doubt, self-editing, and writer’s block. Rituals are a way to deal with this and get past it, when sheer chutzpah isn’t enough.
Rites. A writer may have that office, with the walls lined floor to ceiling with books, pocket doors with polished brass pulls, hardwood floors covered by a dark persian rug, and a bay window that looks past willows and cherry blossom trees to see a private lake reflecting a warm blue sky. Through hidden speakers flow their favorite writing music to inspire and simultaneously drown out the harsh noise of the outside world. They have their impossibly large oak desk, their trusty typewriter (it’s like a laptop, but steampunk, kids) and sheafs of fine linen paper to fill with the deeds of their characters, whose names will live forever, if they followed my advice from last week. Their sanctum sanctorum. Their temple to the muse that invites sublime creativity. They spent years dreaming of it, weeks designing it, and months putting it together. Finally, they sit in the embrace of its cocoon for hours, in sublime comfort, as they pull their hair out to think of something to write.
Superstition. Iconic baseball players have the bat they hand carved from a tree on their farm that was struck by lightning. Lawyers have their “lucky underwear.” Poker players have their hoodies, gaudy hats, and expression-hiding sunglasses. Writers have their favorite pens, paper, Moleskine notebooks, ergonomic keyboards, and other accoutrements to bring them comfort in their toils. When faced with the prospect of working without these, some will flatly refuse.
Magic. Is it really a greek muse visiting the writer, only when conditions are favorable to her? Will only incense and a snifter of brandy allow her blessings? Will a shot of whiskey, a lit cigar, and a chicken bring Jobu to grant a home run hit? Only in Charlie Sheen movies. Though I still have roller skates at the ready in case Olivia Newton-John reprises her role from Xanadu.
Hypnosis. Concentrating on trivial, tangential tasks takes the pressure off of the conscious mind. Focusing on cutting up the fruit and cheese into perfectly sized mouthfuls to snack on during the surge of writing creativity keeps the conscious mind from agonizing over what to write. It frees the unconscious mind to run around and play with ideas and push them into some sort of order. Like watching the pocket watch swinging back and forth and listening to the man with the soothing voice, you zone out just a bit, and get out of the way of your own creativity and focus.
Habits. Writing first thing in the morning, every day at lunch in the park, or once the kids have finally gotten to sleep is something I hear writers constantly mentioning. It’s agonizing at first, as they wait for their time to come. Then, they run to their niche and sit down and expect the miracle of creation to happen instantly. But as they continue, the transition from running around to quietly writing (or furiously tak-tak-tak-ing away at the keyboard) becomes easier.
Process. The stolen nuggets of time become progressively more productive, and the hour at lunch brings more writing than a week of lunches used to. There’s less pain, transition, and worry. The words come, and writers seek to subtly tweak the way they do things, finding that small changes applied consistently return great results. They track their progress, monitor statistics, and document their steps so they are reproducible.
Workflow. Soon, they batch or automate tasks, find tools to handle the tedium, safely store their revisions, organize their work, and have solutions and techniques at the ready for issues that may arise. Backup plans emerge, and the word count rises steadily. There is an addictive quality to the success of writing, and the writer steals extra time whenever possible to get “just a little more done.”
Execution. The anxiety of the creative process dissolves as the writer’s comfort grows and works are completed in rapid succession. Collaboration is a simple thing, and the tools are familiar and unobtrusive now.
Work. The writing process itself is very streamlined, except for small areas that could still be improved upon. It may be that a new social networking tool will assist cooperative world-building efforts. Maybe third-person subjunctive participle conjugation is still a tricky point. Writers find time to hone their skills to gleaming perfection.
Tedium. Keeping up with all the new tools, techniques, and articles becomes more effort than the actual writing itself. New avenues of learning open up every day, and bot the talented and the uninitiated seem to spew forth endless advice that must be read, weighed, and filtered. Writing itself becomes almost secondary to the idea of writing.
Procrastination. There’s too much to keep up with. The Twitter stream keeps flowing, and it must all be read. Once this thread is finished, the real writing can start. Oh wait, someone just posted about semicolons…!
Quitting. This isn’t what being a writer is all about. Words used to mean something, and now the thought of looking at the screen brings pangs of nausea. The muse has left. It’s time to stop.
Reflection. It’s been years since anything was written more than 140 characters at a time, and after unsubscribing from countless forums, blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, there is quiet once again. Writing was so central to life, but that was so long ago. It would be so hard to start again….