Saturday, November 22, 2008


I've been writing again. Real writing, the kind that's miserable. It's been awhile.

This will no doubt change, but for now the routine goes like this:

I get up and feed the dogs, wash the dishes, shower, make breakfast and coffee and then surf the Internet for what seems like hours as I sip coffee and eat, all the while feeling more and more lousy because I'm not writing but, at the same time, being absolutely, 100 percent averse to writing, as if it were the most wretched medicine on earth, and I have to drink a pint of it.

Finally, I set an egg timer for 20 minutes and stare at my screen while the seconds tick away. Five minutes later, after several false starts, I have a somewhat acceptable clause. Three minutes later it's sentence. Twelve minutes in I have two sentences down. And with five minutes to go in my alloted 20, I'm typing furiously. The timer goes off, but I have to keep going, to at least finish the paragraph. Once that's done, I usually have enough ideas and energy to keep going for another half paragraph, at which point I either run out of steam or a gasket pops in my brain, causing me to abruptly stop.

If I'm lucky, I can then go through the same process at least once before lunch, complete with net surfing and guilt-ridden procrastination. And if I'm super, super lucky, I can go it again after lunch. But some days that's all I get -- a paragraph and a half. 

The actual writing isn't miserable. Those 2o to 40 minutes when the words are flowing is actually quite wonderful. It's all the rest of the time that totally sucks. I once heard Joyce Carol Oates describe it as like having a vice clamped on your head all the time. You get some relief when you're writing, and quite a bit more when you finish writing something. And the relief, compared to the pain, is so great that it feels like an exquisite high, even though it's just normal life with out a vice crushing your skull. 


New Hoboken said...

Back in the day, a professor told me that in order to get her writing done she would put herself in a chair in a carol in the library (hers, assigned) for, say three hours each day, and the only thing she could do there was write. She said there was a long time where nothing happened, but the rule was that her butt had to be in the chair, and nothing but writing could occur. Or nothing was OK. Eventually, she said, the body got used to the idea, or bored, and, having nothing else to do, began to write. And then, of course, when things have gotten to a certain point, the amount of time expanded naturally, and the work got done. I used this technique years ago, and wrote a book that seems to have made a difference in people's lives, and quite accidentally a play. It really works. But you have to be strict and sit in the chair and refuse to do anything but write. You have to decide what qualifies as "real" writing in this age of blogs and constant communiques. I allow myself to count writing letters to friends, if it is clear that it is warming up for "real writing". In other words, much more explanation and narrative than anyone wants to actually receive in a letter.

In any case. Good luck.

ben said...

Hemingway recommended quitting before you were out of ideas or things to say so that it would be a lot easier to start the next time.