When your desk is right in your home (as is mine as of two weeks ago), whether you are tackling your corporate writing job (like I am) or wrestling with writer’s block on your creative projects (ditto: me), there will be moments when you find your focus wandering…
A Novel Process – (nutritious, too!)
A very accomplished writer (let’s call her M until I get her permission) for whom I once did some journalistic book-researchish stuff, used to go into a sort of baking binge about once a year or so. In fact, while I haven’t been in touch with her recently, as she is so darn successful and busy writing, I’m pretty sure she still does this. You see, according to her friends and family, she, M, would bake bake bake bake bake – pies, cakes, cupcakes – and then, after a period of a few weeks, she would stop. Stop. At that point, M would sit down and write a darn good novel.
Simple as that.
M used that period of break-neck baking to prepare for another novel project. Did she think about her novel during that time? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Did she take notes? Not very often. Her apron wrapped around her slim shoulders, M just let the ideas and inspiration simmer and develop there in her head while the cakes and scones took gooey, delectable form in the oven.
Good for some… totally useless for others…like me
Stories like M’s do no small amount of violence to my discipline. These tales lead me wonder whether, if I could just find the right ritual — the correct chain of banal-seeming but mind-cracking activities, I too might produce an impressive body of work every few years. The nasty, soul-crushing reality is that, whether it turns out I develop and rely upon have a cool ritual to lubricate the old pen hand, (or even possess the talent chops to do so) and to release from said pen a healthy chunk of prose, the REAL factor for production is so unromantic: it’s (GASP!) discipline. I lack it.
In my case, discipline is not the scion of ritual — not from pies, cakes or puppies, nor scented candles flaming away, nor stimulating bubble baths, nor the perfect desk chair, nor strains of Charles Mingus in the background. How do I know? I’ve tried it all. For me, discipline comes from nowhere but this girl I see in the mirror every morning. Believe me, that has had its discouraging moments. We all want an easy formula to succeed.
And yet… it might work for you… so don’t take my word for it — try some of these things yourself. (Hint: If you do take up madly paced baking, invest in a treadmill at the same time.)
If you know rituals don’t work for you – take heart, faithful reader. All is not lost.
In my professional writing, I tend to have to sleep on my drafts before they become anything interesting. My head just tends to process a lot of ideas at night – so that in the morning I have a vision of what the article will say and how it will say it. Sometimes if I’m lucky, I even make deadline. Creative writing is the same – yet with creative writing I rarely have a deadline. This lack of a deadline is why I’ve started a little head game with myself. For it to work, I have to believe it. I have to set deadlines for myself and put them before anything – just as I do the articles I have written for other publications.
Play Mind Games…
The key is setting a goal for something: a short story/an essay/a bit of a memoir. Then, setting aside time every day, or nearly every day, write (or do whatever is your passion). Start with a predetermined amount of time — not so much that you set yourself up for failure, but not too little either — then stick to your plan. The fun part is that you have to sit down to write whether or not you have a topic, a pen, electricity, or anything at all to say… No pressure, right? To battle any lack of inspiration, I do writing exercises or take quick, attentive dips into other, more accomplished writers’ and researchers’ recent work.
1. A New Yorker short story or two
2. A Harper’s “Index” or “Findings” page
3. The book The 3 A.M. Epiphany
4. A few minutes reading an article in a Lapham’s Quarterly
Try a few of these just before you sit down the write, or sew, or anything else you just need to make a priority in your life. Sometimes, just getting your mind to think about something utterly unrelated to the task at hand (like baking before novel-writing, for instance) helps enhance your product. Oh… and the decorating detour I took today instead of sitting down to write? Here it is:
Repurpose Project #1: Wine Rack Turns Shoe Rack
(Hey, I needed something to do with all those pumps… even though there was a book review to be done…)