Tag Archives: process

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.

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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.



Things That Work, Part 1

13 Apr


Things That Work
Part 1

It was Monday morning and I was alone. I sat in front of the typewriter. My studio was quiet, with just a tiny level of traffic noise from the street. It was mid-spring, so the room was comfortable. Happy sunlight glowed through the old, stained skylight. Curls of steam rose like ethereal tendrils from my coffee cup next to my chair. I leaned forward quickly and typed as I nodded my head.

“Oh, that’s good,” I muttered as my fingers flew. Every time a digit struck my ears were rewarded with a satisfying clack. “Uh, ‘curls of steam… ethereal..’ yeah…”

I sat back and took a sip of the dark, earthy brew. It burned my lip and tongue, just on the edge of being too hot. The words floated through my mind and I returned to typing. When I got to the bottom of the page, I pulled the paper out and replaced it. The process was quick, now that I was used to it.

Another reflex took over and I tried to reach for my mouse. My hand paused in mid-air and I shook my head. My computer wasn’t even turned on. There was no way to check my email. If I wanted to look up how a word was spelled, or find out why shade-grown coffee was superior – or any other damned thing – it would have to wait. There was no internet in the studio, even if I was dying to distract myself. I adjusted my seat and got back to work.

Tuesday morning was rough. I was behind my normal schedule as I eased into the chair. My coffee was hot, even if my brain was only lukewarm. I turned on the laptop, opened up the file folder and selected the right document. As I sipped my coffee, my fingers flipped through the typewritten pages from yesterday. The feel of each raised letter on the paper was nice – a physical reminder of the work I had done.

I propped up the pages, in order, and began to type on the computer. The soft, super responsive keys barely made a sound. Fingers flew across the keyboard as my gaze scanned back and forth on the page. In the middle of the last paragraph I stopped and considered the wording. My mental dictionary picked out a better turn of phrase.

On page three, I took out a line of flat dialogue. The next paragraph was out of order. I highlighted the text and moved it to page one. Then I deleted two paragraphs that followed.

“Measure once, cut twice,” I murmured. I swallowed a long drink of coffee and laughed. “Or is it the other way around?”

When I got to the end, I spent a few minutes reading it all over. I scrolled down to the bottom and saved the whole thing. I dropped the typewritten pages on shelf next to my typewriter. After I downed the rest of my coffee, I decided to get a refill. My mind bounced around with words and descriptions. The sunlight was nice.

Back in the studio, I fed a new sheet of paper into the typewriter. I glanced at the last few paragraphs and started typing again. The air was filled with the crack and clatter of metal keys striking the blank slate. My words appeared, one letter at a time, imprinted into the paper itself with black ink. I fed page after page into the machine and page after page came out, covered with my words. It was a nice arrangement.

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And THAT is what works. For me. Sometimes. Except, ya know, when it doesn’t work. But I think that’s related to some other, even more serious problem.

Is it more convoluted? Does it make the whole process of writing longer, more complicated? Hell yes. But it also shuts up my internal editor. I think I may have mentioned this before: He is a world-class jerkface. Anything that shuts him up – so I can work – is a damned good thing.

Here’s why it works for me. I’m using a different physical device. The typewriter doesn’t have a backspace, or any way to delete what I’ve done. It is immediate and undoable. I made a deal with my internal editor. He can do whatever he wants when I transcribe it onto my laptop. It’s like an instant, on-the-fly editing job. But it allows me the freedom to get that first draft out of my system.

Do I feel funny, typing on a typewriter? Isn’t that what hipsters, or poseurs do? Honestly? Who gives a damn. I do what WORKS. And today, after all the pain and misery I’ve had to wade through, it was ME that worked. You do what you have to do. Whatever puts words on the page, my friend.