As some of you know I am in California for the next couple of weeks. I arrived on Monday the 27th and plan to stay until January 8th, when I head home. The purpose of this trip was to make some headway on some writing that I have been planning, namely a book of spiritual essays. The time I have spent here however has been less about what I am writing and more about learning how I write– an unexpected lesson.
You see, I thought I knew how I wrote: upright, with my fingers, at my keyboard. But as it turns out there is more than mechanics that go into it. There is mood, noise, lighting, setting, atmosphere, and those are only some of the external things. There are a range of internal factors also: hungry, full, thirsty, well caffeinated, tipsy, drunk, tired, awake, showered, unshowered. All things effect how you write.
“But, Coleman” you say. “You write all the time.” And this is true. I have no problem every couple of days sitting down and banging out a blog post or two in my spare time, but I am talking about a different kind of writing. The kind of writing I am talking about is a forced concentration, a real test of endurance. This is writing with purpose, not flippant. This is the kind of writing it takes to write books and make a successful career out of writing.
And I think I can do it. It will take practice, but I can do it.
The frustrating thing is that there is no one way to do it. Stephen King talks about this in his book On Writing. He recommends making a space in your home that is completely personal and completely geared toward your writing. He says his nook is covered in papers and letters and books and music. Truman Copote however, would rent hotel rooms for months to get his work done because he needed a place completely void of personalization. Donald Miller says he just writes where he writes, there’s little method to it. Hemmingway, Joyce and King himself wrote a great deal of good work under the influence. I think there may be merit to that (though King disagrees). Sometimes substance abuse helps you get past yourself and helps you ignore insecurities. I personally don’t think this is the road for me, but I know that some have claimed it helped.
There are plenty of other examples, but I have found a couple of things that really work for me this week that I will share now.
1) Internet really kills my productivity. I notice that if I ever hit a hitch or a snag I have to go look at facebook. After ten minutes there I come back to my snag and continue. This is why I think that I need a type writer. Stephen King uses a Mac, but he’s had about forty more years of self-discipline than I do.
2) I have to have food. Otherwise I just run around looking for food all morning and complaining that I am hungry instead of writing. I still haven’t figured out if snacking or regular meals is best.
3) I don’t like to be alone. That becomes a focus for a while if no one else is around. I wrote five pages in an empty house over the course of two days, but wrote five pages in a couple of hours while Courtnie was working on her lesson plans in the floor. WITH STOPS FOR CONVERSATION!
4) I need background noise. The house I was writing in was silent, but one night at the cottage while watching the Holiday and Catch and Release really helped my creative energy get going. I need something that I can leave alone. I find that I bounce back and forth if I am listening to Grooveshark or Pandora.
5) Caffeine is essential. Over the course of the five pages I wrote I drank a 2-litre Mountain Dew. I don’t get bogged down by snags and words and details. I make a note and power through.
6) Writing, coupled with reading, really helps. I have enjoyed the break that I have been afforded from my writing by reading the books of other people. I enjoy other people’s work a lot.