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Rhobin Courtright’s topic for September: What writing practices do you have that you think are eccentric or at least never mentioned but you find helpful?
My initial response was: “I don’t know that I have writing practices!”
I sit in my recliner chair, my laptop on my lap, and allow my fingers to type. But OK, here is something: I write when I don’t write.
Transferring words from mind to computer via the fingers is not writing, but recording. In fiction, there is a scene, peopled by characters. One of them is the witness, and I report that person’s experiences: emotion, action, dialogue, perceptions, thoughts, bodily feelings.
But what should be the next scene? Where is the story going? (or, in the case of my writing at this moment, where should the essay be going?) What should be the source of tension or interest? What’s the point I want to make?
I went to sleep last night with Rhobin’s question unanswered in my mind. I woke at 6:16 a.m., did what you do when you wake after hours of sleep, then wrote all the above with barely a pause. It was already there, as was the material below.
I did the writing while asleep, and am now merely recording. I don’t think that’s all so unusual, though. Isn’t “We’ll sleep on this problem” a cliché? Only, some of my writing is while digging in the garden, or doing exercise, or driving a car.
At one time, I lived about 50 Km from my place of work, and commuted on a motorbike. Riding from home to work in the morning was for work problems; from work to home in the evening for home problems. These were not actually writing, because in those days I didn’t yet know that I was a writer. The work problems were aspects of the next experiment, or survey design, or how to handle that meeting. The home problems typically concerned building design, and the sequencing of building operations, or the next place to look for field stones for a stone wall. But guess what. The creative process is the same.
Going for a run or a walk or a bike ride is a great opportunity for writing. In the antediluvian days when I was a student, that’s how I wrote my essays and assignments. I got the question clear in my mind, and went for a thirty-mile run. After a shower and a meal, all I had to do was to write it down.
But isn’t it distracting? Was I in danger of crashing my motorbike, or running in front of a car? No, because the process is the same as what I did last night. While asleep, I didn’t dream about Rhobin and her question (she may be very relieved to read that), nor did I stay awake ruminating over the topic. I just slept, and whatever dreams I dreamt concerned other stuff. At the same time, SOMETHING was working away at the problem, perhaps a little Bob inside my head. So, in other settings, I am focused on digging in the garden, or vacuuming, or walking, or shopping, while little Bob is busy inside, writing.
This has a few consequences, negating some of the advice always trotted out to writers.
We are told, “When you write, don’t worry about typos, about the precise choice of words, about grammar. Just get it down as a first draft, then fix it later.” The rationale is to avoid interrupting the creative flow. However, for me, the creative flow is in the past. Now, I am merely recording. So, I choose my words with care. I organise my sentences to obey the rule, “All prose is poetry.” When there is a typo, I fix it there and then. I often stop, go back to the start and re-read my work, tweaking it along the way. I may start a phrase, then revise it three times before moving on. I guess you could say, this is because what I am doing IS the second draft. Little Bob in my head did the first one.
We are told to have regular writing habits, setting up our environment just so, treating it like a job, making a routine or a ritual of it. My initial response to the topic was that I don’t have such writing practices. I can hammer my keyboard in any setting, and often do so on a train or bus, or sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, or during the interminable time while that person doesn’t phone back. I have a silly little project of recording those writing mistakes that a spell checker doesn’t pick up. I’ve accumulated thousands of them. A great many are my finger stumbles. I’m racing along, typing, and “racing” comes out as “raging,” or “out” as “our.” I stop there and then, open the relevant file, and check if this is a new one or not. If it is, in it goes. And the interruption does not destroy the creative flow.
A third consequence is that if all I do is write, then I may go dry, hit a block, have my ideas stop. I need to mix the writing with other activities into a rainbow-coloured cocktail of life, because I need opportunities for little Bob to do his thing. And, after all, life is too short to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. (I learned that from a young man who was talking with the Great Khan, the ruler of his people. He is a character in a story I wrote in the late 1990s.)
Can you do it my way? I have learned lots from what my characters tell me in my current work in progress. They have instructed me that reality is created by the observer. I believe that what I’ve described here is the way I write, so this is the way I write. If you believe that you can only write within a particular room, at set times, with everything organised as if it were a religious ritual, then your ideas will flow only in that situation. If you just know that correcting a typo will put up a great wall between this thought and the next, then it will.
I reckon my way is more fun, and gives me greater freedom. If you want to copy me, all you need to do is to believe that what I’ve written here will work for you.
Please leave a comment if you can think of one (but please don’t if you can’t). Then visit the other contributors to Rhobin’s Round, and leave comments there too:
(Reversing the tyranny of the alphabet.)
Seems to me we may need to form a Little Writers’ club! Your little Rachael is welcome to join my little Bob, and a couple of other commenters.
Dr. Bob, I really liked how you pointed out that writing can merely be recording. Some of my most important plot points have cropped up when I’m walking to class (or am in class, whoops), or sitting around or even reading. But lots of times it takes me until I’m sitting in front of my laptop before the creative wheels start puffing and churning. 🙂
Nuggets of truth in this article for me. I find it nearly impossible to simply bang out a story and then go back later for revisions. Like you, I try to be more careful with my words and make corrections along the way. I generally know what I want to do with a story, but the details seem to come from the moments I’m not writing and now I better understand why. Thank you for your insight.
My pleasure, Anthony. Little Bob and I are here to serve 🙂
And isn’t it more fun doing it our way?
Yes, I’ve read your excellent post. Maybe your little Ann, little Skye and little Bob can have a party when we’re not looking.
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Hi Bob, another thought inspiring post on one of our topics. I know exactly what you mean about thinking/sleeping on a problem. It’s great for crossword solving. I do it in writing, too. As I say in my own post, sometimes the brain shuts me out of a story. It’s waiting until the thinking is completed. anne stenhouse
Interesting observation that you are merely recording, not writing when your fingers are banging away at the computer. Made me stop and think and realize that all my best work happens just that way. My ideas come to me best, whole scenes with dialog and action, sudden inspirations for where my plot is going next and great insights, when I am either in the shower, just dropping off to sleep at night or walking on the beach.
Thank you, Skye. I suggest you welcome Little Skye, cosset her, feed her lots of interest and excitement.
I enjoyed your post and learning about your process. As always–interesting. On reality though, if I understood you correctly, it is a self-constructed concept. I completely agree.
Rhobin, it is based on science, though rather speculative. I reviewed “Quantum Jumps” by Cynthia Sue Larson, and was so intrigued I interviewed her at http://wp.me/p3Xihq-rU
Everyone knows this to be true at the subatomic level — quantum mechanics and all that. Cynthia has assembled a great number of events that indicate such happenings at the macroscopic level.
So, if I could honestly, with 100% certainty, believe that I can float up to the ceiling, then I would. Of course, being brainwashed by European culture, there is no way I can make myself believe this — so I can’t.
In my current work in progress, the Doom Healer series, this is the central concept of the Ability.
I actually have it to a slight extent. When I have a scratchy throat or other early indication of a cold/flu, I do some guided imagery (included on my CD “Healing Scripts”), and the problem goes away. I’ve used it on slight strains of an elbow or the like, small headaches, etc. and can make the problem disappear.
Glad you liked him. Trouble is, he hides from me. I’ve never met him myself.
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It was nice to meet Little Bob. He works hard so he can make writing fun for you!
A great article. I must say, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Sadly, being dyslexic (Why is that such an easy word to spell? Come to that, why is ‘Abbreviation’ such a long word?) I can’t spot most of my own typos, but I certainly revise my work. It’s quite horrifying what rubbish I’m capable of writing if I don’t check up on myself.
Thank you for the visit, comment and approval, Lorenzo.
I’m impressed that you’re challenging your dyslexia by writing. That’s the way to react to any challenge. You might want to read two reviews about books on the topic here:
Do you have any published work?
Reblogged this on Never Give Up by Joan Y. Edwards and commented:
I reblogged this from Dr. Bob Rich talking about his writing habits. I know you’ll enjoy it. Feel free to leave him a comment on Bobbing Around. Thanks for reading my blog.
Dear Dr. Bob,
I love your blog post explaining how you write. I latched onto your words if you believe this will work for you. It’s all about our belief. The success of everything we do is tempered by the belief system we have!
Thank you for sharing your experiences and lessons learned with us.
Never Give Up
Joan, you’re amazing: you read my essay before I received notification of it. Do you have a time machine?
In the book I am writing now, there is a little girl who responded to past torture by developing multiple personalities (which is a frequent thing for little children in that situation with high intelligence). She has “The Ability,” and so her alters can actually emerge in a physical form. One of them is the “Lady,” whose task is to cut off the head of anyone who hurts others.
Well, little Konila watched on TV news as a camel hurt a little girl. And there on the news was her Lady, cutting off the camel’s head with her great sword.
Since the news was naturally a recording rather than real time, I deduce that you are related to Konila.