Writing Groove

I’ve finally found a groove of writing that fits me.  It’s taken years to settle into it.  I feel silly posting it here, except it seems that so many people who write are obsessed with knowing how other people write.  Me too.  It’s as if, by knowing the steps Writers take, the magic will dust its sparkles across my body and I’ll produce sentences that are equally sublime.  Turns out that’s a fairy tale. I’ve always loved fairy tales; I won’t easily let them go, but the stark truth is that each writer must find what works best for them…and it takes a lot of trial and error.  Well, continual trial and error.  Like, forever.  That’s part of it. 

The steps that work for me, and why.  Part 1.  

It’s essential I wake early in the morning and write for an hour and half. Sometimes I can squeeze two hours in, seldom three, before my job-job demands begin for the day.  I can’t manage the 5 am wake up seven days a week because I need to catch up on sleep one or two mornings, but I do manage it five days a week. I think this is pretty good.  

There are two reasons (am I so obsessed with numbers?  It appears I am.) the early waking helps me write.  The obvious first is that I write knowing no one in my family will interrupt me.  I write undisturbed and focused for the brief time allotted.  This may seem trivial, but for a mother and wife, the waking hours that fill the rest of the day are always “on call”.  I am able to defend my morning space if someone wakes early and ventures to start a conversation…they will retreat and let me alone most of the time. But any other time, my defense of writing time is ignored, even if—ha ha, when—I become a spitting bitch  With an iron will and gritted teeth (and it appears, a heady list of clichés) I tell myself I chose these paths in my life too: wife, mother.  I do want it all.  And a lonely cabin in the woods, by a lake, with decent wifi, where “someone” delivers breakfast in a basket and a gin and tonic at 4 in the afternoon. In fairy tales one can dream.  

This segues nicely into my second, more important, reason for rising before dawn to begin writing.  My brain remains asleep, closer to a dream state than a waking one.  It is easier for me to access my subconscious this way…the place where imagery is strangest, and the juxtaposition of disparate words move to the page unquestioned.   My inner critic sleeps on while my inner dancer prances.  It is not unusual for me to re-read in the afternoon what I wrote in the morning and not recognise a word or thought that is there.  Often, it’s a discovery.  “Later day” writing always sees me tinkering a perfectionism that dulls the shine, completely rubs the magic away.  Stories rise out of our subconscious…our bodies are trying to communicate something to us.  There is a deeper knowledge there that requires patient practice to fish it out.  

I write by hand, in a notebook.  I used to write stories and prose directly on the computer and use my notebook for journaling by hand…but I discovered my thoughts are freer when I write by hand.  I also discovered that when I type on the keyboard and watch the text laid down on the page, I read and re-read and re-read the sentences and paragraphs and I can’t help myself correcting them and forcing patterns prematurely (I’ll return to this idea shortly). In contrast, when I write by hand, I never stop my progress on the page to read what I have written.  Instead, I keep my pen moving and the ideas and images in my brain rise out of the murk steadily and easily.  I think there is something to this, the fine motor skill associated with forming letters with one’s fingers, the drawing of squiggleys, and some association with cognition.  Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools, used to have his students knit while learning lessons as he believed the small movement of fingers aided memory. I’m looking into it…subject for a different post. For me, the reading and correcting on the computer is a disruption to the creative writing process. It’s taken me a long time to understand this.   

I write with a pen instead of a pencil.  Unless it’s poetry. Poetry generation is always done with a pencil and never stays within the lines…it just doesn’t.  I allow myself the use of an eraser with poetry.  For prose and reflection, I write with a pen…a pen that feels good in my hand and doesn’t drag too much on the page…this helps relieve finger and hand fatigue…very real if you haven’t practiced handwriting.  And I have a rule that I’m not to cross things out, if I can help it. All words count.  And this permits a complete freedom in the generation of material. Handwriting speed seems to match my thinking speed.  Or, maybe it slows my thinking speed so that my attention is improved.  Most people prefer to type on a computer because it is fastest for getting their thoughts down.  But I need to slow my thoughts.  A pen helps. I’ll stop here for now.  I hadn’t realised writing about my writing would take up so much space.  I’ll post part 2 in the weeks to come. 

The Trades I Make

The last week and a half, I let my creative writing time go.  It’s a decision I seldom allow, making exceptions only when I am away on vacation or my routine becomes so disrupted it interferes with sleep. I don’t bounce back quickly after sleep is sacrificed. 

These last years of early morning waking for quiet reflection and writing, I have learned that with any break in routine, the fear of inadequacy floods in, and the time to get back into routine, back into a free flowing creative state, takes me twice as long (at least) as the time  that I “take off”. So, stopping the creative writing routine is not a decision I make lightly. It’s too costly.  

I wish I could say it wasn’t due to COVID-19…I read so many artists explaining this time has robbed them of creative spirit.  But it’s not like that exactly.  No, in the wake of the pandemic my role at my job has swerved—a twist of irony that can’t be ignored—toward more writing.  I’m writing for our regional medical officer of health.  I write whatever and whenever he requests.  I’ve ratcheted up my [work] productivity to a level I haven’t had to in years.    And last week I worked against the clock to complete a scientific review of research literature to write a proposal submitted to the province requesting regional easing of restrictions in areas with lower incidence of the disease.  

I’m enjoying the challenge at work.  Though last week the hours were punishing, and everything slid sideways to accomplish it. But that productivity level won’t be the norm.  This week should see things settling back into routine. But that’s not really what I wanted to write about here…sometimes the setup is too long to get to where you’re trying to get to.  What I’m curious about and even somewhat ashamed to ask, is: why it is that I will put my head down and work that hard for “my job”, or for someone else, or …let’s call it something extrinsic to myself, and not do the same for my own creative writing projects?  A fraction of that energy to my own creative work would have seen a list of publications or painted canvases.

Ah.  But even writing that last sentence I see how easily I slip into chasing products again, instead of sinking into process, as one does into a downy pillow after a long day.  Still, it would do me good to explore what it is (why it is?) that makes it easier to perform for others as opposed to for myself.  Like a trained circus animal.  

But that’s exactly it, isn’t it…a denial of one’s wilder instincts to ensure steady meals on the table. Avoiding the discomfort in the wilderness of unknowns; the unpredictable traded for an illusion of control, a fairy tale of certainty.  

It amazes me always how the writing will get you where you need to get to, to answer questions.  Part of the process is having the courage to ask questions.  But also, a willingness to trample into the bare unknowns, where the answers are often harsh and unforgiving.