Things That Work, Part 2

26 Apr

Things That Work
Part 2

I wish my shower was this cool

I wish my shower was this cool

It was Autumn and the precious few hours of sunshine were long gone. I leaned my head against the side of the shower and let the hot water pour over me. Warm steam filled my lungs and began to thaw my chilled joints.

I had been working on my story almost all evening, only coming out for dinner. My wife was now in bed, my daughter was in bed, and I was supposed to be in bed already – after all, I had to wake up and pretend to be a responsible adult in just a few hours. My thoughts began to drift, away from my writing, to the looming deadlines I had at my so-called real job.

And that is when it hit me. A connection between two big themes in my book – the close of a gap that had been driving me nuts – just popped into my head. Not only was it A good idea, it was the RIGHT idea. Unfortunately, it arrived at a terrible time.

“Wow,” I said through the drizzle of hot water. “Thanks a lot, brain.”

I dried off, wrapped my bathrobe around myself and headed out to my computer. My mind was happy and irritated, at the same time. Two hours later, even more exhausted and stinking of cigarette smoke, I collapsed into bed.

The next day was torture, but I knew I deserved every moment of suffering. How could I have gone to bed, in the face of such illumination? What other choice was there? I couldn’t imagine any other course of action.

Three days later, the same damn thing happened. It felt like I had been cursed.

Again, up very late. In the shower, trying to not think about words, or stories, or anything. Really, just minding my own, and ready for the sweet embrace of sleep. And that’s when I suffered an epiphany. And believe me, I think “suffered” is the right term. I tried to push the idea away, but it just nailed me.

“God damn it,” I muttered to the shower wall. “Why didn’t I think of this four hours ago?”

A few hours and several rewritten pages later, I fell asleep in my chair. When I awoke around dawn, my legs were numb, my neck was sore, and I felt as if the best part of my will to live had been dried up. In other words, it was a Writer’s Hangover. As I stumbled to bed and burrowed under the covers, I took small consolation in the fact that it was my day off.

When I dragged myself out of bed a few hours later, I swore this wasn’t going to happen again. After I drank half a pot of coffee and reviewed my changes and edits, I realized that I had been too tired to write clearly. The ideas were sound, it was my writing that had turned sour.

The next night, I tucked my daughter into bed. I checked in with my wife. And instead of rushing off to get to work on my book, I decided to do something else, first. I took a shower. It was half a clever notion, I’m sure. But the other half was grim determination. I’d be damned before I let some stupid inspiration or clarity rob me of my good night’s sleep.

“Stupid brain,” I grumbled as I dumped shampoo on my head. “So you like showers, huh?”

It was a ridiculous notion, I knew. But I stood under the scalding water, letting my mind wander, trying to focus only on my breathing. And the ideas charged down from the steamy ether. I pushed them aside, but they regrouped and mounted a counter-attack.

I stepped out of the shower, into my bathrobe, and perched on the edge of my seat. The words slipped into place, the scenes lined up, and nobody had to get hurt. Midnight rolled around. I went to bed.

<> <> <>

And THAT is what works. For me, anyway. But only when I feel ‘stuck’ in my work. If everything is jumbled up, inside my head, I know that I should walk away. But just the simple distance from the writing can loosen up the ideas.

It doesn’t work like a magic trick, or like some silly ‘cheat code’ for the brain. But it kind of is a mind game. I don’t know a lot about meditation, or self-hypnosis, but I like the results of this silly process. You should give it a try, if the need arises.

I think this comes back to my mantra, as a practical word-jockey: Whatever puts words on the page – that’s what I need to do.

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