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.)