I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately. I guess by “lately” I probably mean “non-stop for about 3 years, pretty consistently in an off-and-on way for seventeen or so years before that”.
My wife, who is very wise and beautiful, recently posted on her blog a link to a lecture that touched on a lot of subjects Writerly folk dwell upon often. Or so I would imagine. I’d imagine that other people who write and/or self-identify as writers dwell upon these subjects, I’m quite sure that my wife recently linked to said lecture.
Oh, and my wife (who is very wise and beautiful) was turned onto the lecture by Courtney, who is very funny and Canadian. So: shout out! (S’up, Courtney?)
If you didn’t watch the lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert, I can sum up the parts that were important to me (other than the Tom Waits stuff which is Always Important) thusly: Sometimes an idea flutters down, unbidden, onto a writer and the writer is flustered or frustrated because they are driving, or grocery shopping, or sleeping, or doing one of the million things that writers (like everyone else) needs to do in order to- you know- get by in life- let alone write.
She mentions, I think, the old “notebook by the bedside” for those midnight visitations from the muses. I know some people who keep notebooks in their cars which seems a bit dangerous to me, but I drive a Vespa. Plus, my chicken scratch is illegible even to me, so it’s moot. If I had been born in a pre-typewriter/computer age, I would doubtless have been very, very disappointed in my ability to tap into my skull and drain out the ideas, because the only way I can keep up with my creative thought process is by speed-typing. Fortunately, I type really fast. Spelling and punctuation and grammar, eh, not so much. But that is why I think of myself as a Storyteller, not a Writer. (Semantics, pah!)
That ability- to tap into my skull and drain out the ideas- is pretty much vital for my mental health. “Creative Trepanning” as Yojo (whom I have always loved) calls it. Knowing her, she might mean ways to creatively conduct trepanation, but I prefer to assume that it is a metaphor. I said something to my Wife (wise & beautiful) today about writing and paused, as I sometimes to, do muse on the time when I didn’t write.
“Oh, you did write- you just had no direction or focus, but you were constantly writing. Some of it was pretty good,” I paraphrase her response so.
and she’s right- about that I always am writing, even if it has no direction. For the past 3 years I’ve had direction. Prior to that, especially during my tenure as a D-Boy, I did write but it was unfocused. Some of it, in retrospect, isn’t half bad. Some of it can be salvaged. Some of it is best forgotten- but I definitely feel that if an idea doesn’t bear fruit or pan out as expected, it goes back into the stockpot. Did I just mix those metaphors? Was that a catachresis? Well, you could use fruit in a stock, and gold-panning by definition did require a pan…
If the muses are like butterflies (and Gilbert called them Genius, and that is her thang, but I call them muses because they are all willowy floating androgynous things in diaphanous gowns to me) and they sometimes come and go before we have a chance to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard- this bothers me not a bit. For me, every idea that flutters down and brushes across me leaves some trace of itself, some pixie dust… the way a butterfly leaves microscopic traces of the powder from it’s wings.
“It isn’t powder, its feathers,” says the wise and beautiful Missus.
“I said I’m a storyteller, nuthin about being a fucking lepidopterist!” I snarl.
But those ideas, powder, feathers, and pixie dust- some portion remains. I won’t remember the well-formed and beautiful phrase I found while riding my Vespa down Pico. I won’t remember the crystal-clear observation that drifted into my mind like a perfectly designed insect- one of those creatures with the miniscule life span but the perfect amount of time to carry our it’s built-in organic directive. But they do leave a trace. And many muses flutter in and out and sometimes leave before I can fully capture what they are whispering to me- that is ok! Because the more that come (and go), the more traces they leave.
The little tidbits, the glimmers of ideas the scraps and shards of creation- those are what simmer in that ole stockpot, creating the vicious gumbo that has become my own personal mythology. I think a lot about that personal mythology, this post-modern sludge filtered through constant reading and watching and listening and imagining. Sometimes I can just use it in its raw form. Sometimes I have to pull out an ingredient and isolate it and reduce it and strip it of all the cling-on flavors from the personal mythology and…
Our friend, Chia, who is beautiful and awesome and married to an awesome fella, recently linked to an article that likens Writing to a Disease- it’s wonderfully written and quite funny, and very true in many ways.
It got me to thinking about my own process, or what passes for it, and my not-so-secret wish to have a cinderblock room with no windows and a single door (with a lock) containing a computer and a chair. I mean, and a small desk for the computer and keyboard/mouse and speakers (I need music when I’m writing much of the time) but it’s the Chair that is important. It needs to be comfortable- but not too comfortable. I don’t have a lot of padding on my ass and a hard chair can create serious discomfort. I also sometimes write in the nude.
There. Go ahead and get THAT out of your head.
Now here is the thing, Brad Listi writes (in the “Writing as Disease article”) that many writers really dislike writing. Or at least they dislike the creative process that leads to writing. He quotes Gloria Steinem’s infamous “I do not like to write, I like to have written”.
I dunno, but here is a secret y’all: I love writing. It’s the best and cleanest high I’ve ever attained. Writing is my favorite thing in the world and if I could get away with spending a good chunk of every day locked in that cinderblock cell, nekkid and typing and singing along with whatever I was grooving on- Goddamn, Y’all. What a wonderful world that would be.
I no longer worry about running out of ideas, you see, because they just don’t go away. Not entirely. The muses are merciful and leave something every time they visit. It’s enough to fuel the machine.
Maybe if I ever attain any level of success (including failure) I will worry about that. Is it commercial enough, what if this doesn’t sell as projected, will the critics be kind…? Feh.
But the actual writing? Pure fuckin’ joy.