Happy May Day!
When I was a kid, this was celebrated by making flower baskets out of Dixie Cups and ringing a friend’s doorbell and running around their house. Today, I’m going to leave a basket on your doorstep filled with some thoughts on writing. Maybe it will brighten your day. It’s hard to say.
Maybe it will motivate you to put your own stories onto the blank page. Poems. Drawings. Or whatever fills your soul!
Calling the Muse
“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”
― Zen in the Art of Writing
Man, I love that quote. I have read a number of books on writing and Ray Bradbury is at the top of the list. The other indispensable guide is Stephen King’s On Writing. I think all writers should read about the process from other points of view. Not only successful writers the world has taken note of, but also friends, colleagues, and unknowns. There is no one single way to be successful at writing. Other than just getting the words down. But there are techniques. The act of writing is different for everyone.
Steven Pressfield in the War of Art talks about his prayer to invoke the Muse every time he sits down to work. And that is what it is. But I think it goes beyond work. It goes into the realm of function. My “invoking the muse” is probably cleaning my house. When I am out of laundry and dishes to do, I have no excuses to procrastinate. I also have a clean house, so bonus!
For me, writing is as much a function of my existence as taking food into my body, taking a shower, or taking a walk in the rain. It is part ritual, part therapy, and part of the way I understand the world around me. It wasn’t always something I did.
The Why of it
I was one of those kids who HATED–underscore, bold, italics, exclamation point–journaling in high school and college. What a fucking waste of time! I usually waited until the night before they were due and wrote all of them, complete with different colored ink, aging techniques like coffee cup rings, and post-dating. It was closer to a visual arts (read forgery) project than writing.
When I wrote, I wanted to tell stories. Most of them were one or two pages. Sometimes comedic, sometimes action. My best friend Tony could crank out 30 pages for an assignment. Now we’ve swapped. He sends two page emails to me, and my replies are 30 pages. I sometimes feel bad for him.
The thing is, in my adult years, I learned through my old LiveJournal blog is the more you write, the more you write, the more you write. Lately, I can crank out a couple personal blogs, paid blogs, and a few scenes in my current work in progress. And when I get done, I think to myself, “What do I do now? Well, I could go on a walk, or I could write.” Sometimes I just keep writing.
On boring, quiet days, it helps me pass the time. A 1000+ word post like this takes about an hour. If I’m working on the book, if I really get rolling on a scene, I could wake up from my typing and be two hours or 2300 words into it.
Whatever I’m working on, it helps process my thoughts and feelings. It is sometimes distracting from “real life.” But more importantly, it is what I need to do in order to function.
It’s also the best way I know to get to visit my memories. When I go back and read something, not only is it the description of an event I experienced (and fictionalized, or recorded) but it also reminds me of what I was doing, and my mental state when I wrote it. It’s a good measure of things on many levels.
Getting the Poison out
Ray Bradbury also says this:
“We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not pratice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.
A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.
But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.”
He also goes on to say in Zen in the Art of Writing that his wife could tell when he hadn’t written, and the sentiment was that he was very difficult to be around when he hadn’t. I feel like that sometimes. I don’t like myself when I’m not writing. I go down the rabbit hole, so to speak. And that isn’t a good place to be.
My process is akin to dropping spots of India ink on a blank page, which spread out and connect paragraphs into a narrative. Even here, I started the post by just typing out some key words. Each one has blossomed into a paragraph. I didn’t necessarily write them in order either, but that’s how they grow together. I do this whether it is writing about alternate history steampunk or the different types of Dureen boat rigging you can buy.
Sometimes I listen to music, but I can only start it after I have gotten into the flow of writing. Otherwise, I distract myself by making playlists. It’s just something to drone on in the background to keep me moving.
I usually try to write an entire scene in one sitting, and sometimes it is hard to get out of the habit of writing about my current mental state. For example, if it is late at night, I find myself ending a scene with someone going to bed. Maybe that’s why so many stories start with someone waking up in the morning. Beginnings and ends. Kinda like when college kids try to be edgy and write about nursing a hangover or lighting a cigarette. Always with the goddamned cigarettes.
Anyway, the writing is going well. The weird thing is the more I do it, the more I want to do more. It can be difficult to stop. Which is a good habit to get into.
Those who write
For those of us who write, we don’t always enjoy it. Sometimes it is the simple process of opening a vein and bleeding onto the empty page. For others, it is fun. For me, it’s part of how I think. It’s the best way to organize my thoughts and the best way to stay sane.
I hope you, dear reader, enjoy our visits. Let me know what you think in the comments, or send me a text or email. Sometimes this one direction conversation gets lonely.