My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ideal vs. Possible: Writing in Imperfect Circumstances

My "writing desk."
Image description: A futon on the floor with pillows propped up
against the wall.
My life often gives me poignant lessons in folksy writing wisdom. If I thought there was money in it, I would literally become a fortune cookie and let people just pull platitudes out of my chest cavity.

Usually I think "this would be a good idea for the blog" and then end up promptly forgetting whatever it was. I'm not one to carry around a pad of paper and write down every damn thing I think of. Like Stephen King and several others (who I remember hearing about but didn't make a note of and don't have the Google Fu to find now–ironically I didn't think to write them down), I find that trying to write down everything you think is clever quickly becomes a repository of shitty ideas. The truly good ones, the ones you know are absolutely spectacular, demand immediate creative action. You'll burst into a taco shop looking for toilet paper and lipstick if you have to.

But what I've found is that decent ideas recorded as a "must-remember thought" tend to quit evolving and percolating. Once they are written down, they stop growing. Rather than driving that creative tension, it's more like "Oh whew, I can stop thinking about that now." And the idea is just sitting there ––like a sunbather with a cuticle soak ––thinking that it is on par with slicing bread and Newtonian physics. But you don't actually want to STOP thinking about them. You want to let them run around and graze and struggle to survive a little.....  See what happens with them. The good ideas evolve and refine and tend to come back around.

Far too many writers try to shoehorn their "clever ideas" into something that doesn't feel even a little genuine. It's like raisins in chocolate chip cookies or "fetch." Stop trying to make it happen. It's not going to happen.

But one idea has been popping back up a lot lately, and it's about folks who wait to write. I've heard this a lot (oh my fucking god so much a lot) in my life. Here's the basic scenario. Talk to someone. Find out they're also a writer. Ask what they're working on. "Oh yeah, I've got this trilogy in mind about a post-apocalyptic fantasy world where magic comes back because it turns out technology IS a kind of magic and so, once all the cities blow up, the unrefined magic pours back into the ley lines. It's going to be awesome and I've already written three chapters. I'm just waiting until we've cleaned out the spare bedroom and I'll put a desk in there, and then I'm going to get to work on the rest." Or how about this one: "I've always wanted to be a writer but there's just been no time. Once little Suzie is off to school for six hours a day, I'm going to have time to finally work on my novel."

I've been moving these past few days, and the process is ongoing. I've been sleeping on the floor. My room is a disaster. I still need to move most of my stuff. I just discovered that I have not yet brought over socks from the old place, and I'm putting yesterday's back on. I have to buy a desk. My last four meals have been peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Life is messy. It's overwhelming. It's chaotic.

But I've found time and space to write no matter what. I've been writing with just a pillow propping me up as I lean against the wall. I write at weird hours. I write at the kitchen table of my old place while the toddler I'm watching naps or at eleven at night in my bed, stretched out uncomfortably and awkwardly.

I write because that's what I do. And logistics make it better, and maybe even help my sessions go on longer and be more productive, but they do not determine whether or not I write.

See, there's nothing wrong with wanting dedicated time or a desk or even a room of one's own. But there are two things that are tough to get around. One is that for most people, it's never really one thing. It's always one MORE thing. Once they get a laptop, they need a desk. Once they get a desk, they need a room. Once they get a room, they need uninterrupted time. Once they get uninterrupted time, they need special screenwriting software. Once they get the software, the uninterrupted time needs to be the same every day. And on it goes. Trouble is, those things might make writing more enjoyable or comfortable, but they are not the real problem. They are just affectations.

At the other end, there are people who just write anyway. Sure they'd love a MacBook Air, but if they have to write in Google Docs on a ten-year-old desktop, that's how the shit's going down. Sure they'd love designer fountain pens and a Moleskine journal, but they'll use $2 spiral notebooks and Bic pens if they have to. Sure they want a desk, but if they need to prop themselves against the wall with some pillows and keep a blanket over their legs so the laptop heating up doesn't cause nerve damage, then by god that is how they spend the entire six hours. They will find a way and make a way.

I'm not in this to judge who's a "real" writer or not. If you want a desk before you begin, and once you get one, you crank out a novel a year for twenty years, clearly you just needed a damned desk. But if you find the excuses just stretch on and on and on and there's always one more, maybe the block doesn't have anything to do with that one more thing you think you need. And if you scrape out time and space to scribble something down no matter where you are, that is so fetch.


  1. I've been a silent reader for a long while here but THIS just hit the damn nail into my damn brain.
    I stopped writing things that require more than a page but I still have ideas. I also fancied a laptop over my 6 year old 10" netbook which needs 2 minutes to power up and 30 seconds more if I want to open up a document and YET I wrote more on this crappy lame old thing than I ever did on my recently updated desktop. I never want to part with my old netbook no matter how much clutter and space wasting it is I wrote 2 novels on it and all my small prose for my blog.
    Thank you for inspiring me to write away no matter the circumstances!
    You're freaking awesome!

  2. Great piece! Writing is something you do or you don't. It isn't something you contemplate doing when the setting is perfect. It's something you do when it isn't. It's like eating or sleeping. You have to do it, so you make the time for it, even if you don't feel like it. People don't say "I'm waiting until I can afford fancy China and crystal glasses before I eat," or "I"m waiting until I can afford a memory foam mattress before I sleep." It's the same with writing. IF you have to wait for something to happen instead of making it happen yourself then you are not a writer, regardless how great your idea is.

  3. Reminds me of Steven King talking about writing his first several novels on a typewriting sitting on his legs in a closet (or something...I also lack the Google Fu to bother searching for that tidbit just now). I've tried my best to take this to heart, and not let my circumstances keep me from spending time writing day after day.

    Sure, I'd love a dedicated room (and in my next house I might actually get one), but with a small house, a teenage daughter, a special-needs son, a dog, a cat, and a crazy IT schedule, I find my only choices have been - and for the moment remain - to make lots of trips to the library, or wait until everyone is asleep and then sacrifice my own sleep for the chance to write when the house is finally quiet (of course, we're not going to dwell on the fact that my desk is in my bedroom and my wife isn't the most quiet sleeper out there).

    It takes a certain mental drive to choose writing over sleep and despite all the inconveniences of life. But hey, if the rest of the world uses the term 'writer' so loosely that it doesn't have to mean anything to anyone not in the right place at the right time with the right amenities and the right mindset, then at the very least I'm going to do my best to cut my teeth on doing what I think a true writer does: write.

    Thank you, and I shall now get off my soap box and head to bed for a handful of hours before I have to get up for work in the morning.

    PS: Were 600 words worth it for the lack of sleep I'll be carrying with me tomorrow? Abso-freaking-lutely.