Saturday, April 24, 2010

A useful exercise

In the last post, I wondered what I could possibly jettison from the stuff I brought with me to fit the stuff I bought here into my suitcases (and yes, the cheese is vacuum-sealed; and it's sheep, CPP). And I remembered that I had brought a whole stack of legal pads with notes that I had been meaning to transcribe and organize. Some of these date back to Fellowship Year** -- the point being that I've needed to transcribe these for ages, so yesterday I sat myself down to do just that.

(unrelated photo)

And one of the things I found was my notes on writing, that I did as part of an "assignment" from last semester, when I was working with a writing partner and this book to crank out a chunk of academic writing quickly and efficiently. I present it here, unredacted, just for the hell of it:

What keeps me from writing?

Ugh. Want to procrastinate. E-mail? Websites? Watch a movie? Sure – anything to delay. Totally sabotaging myself. I also never really feel "ready" to write – how can I sit down and write until I've read everything, and covered all my bases? What could I possibly write? But I do love it in those moments when it's really flowing. And revising my writing, from the first revision to the fine-tuning, is actually kind of satisfying – like taking a rough-hewn sculpture and smoothing and shaping until it breathes life.

Elements of my writing blocks: Bad habits are procrastination, especially the internet.
Also, and anxiety that I have nothing to say, that I'm just trying to bullshit. I only believe it later. (Hey – how about writing in order to believe? Or is that nuts?)

What about the good parts of writing?

I love it when a good idea comes – just drops on my head like a ton of bricks, seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes it happens when I'm lying in bed, and I'll get up and run to the desk for a piece of scratch paper to get it down before it escapes. Sometimes it'll be while I'm revising, when something I threw in as an afterthought takes on a life of its own, and I realize that that is the key I know that the key may change, but for the moment, that euphoria is enough to make me literally leap out of my chair and pace around, muttering iterations of the idea over to myself, working out the kinks, stopping at my desk now and then to scribble something about the idea as it unfolds. Best of all, the simple fact of having had that idea gives me more confidence to approach the writing the next day, because I have a purpose, and a direction.

But it's never on the first draft. Ever.

What are my ideal writing conditions?

I love writing when it's miserable outside – ideally a storm, but I'll take an overcast day in a pinch. That's why getting up early works for me: in [Grit City], by 10 a.m. it tends to be sunny, and the inspiration flees. Being in a beautiful working space, with hot coffee, quiet, warm light inside and soft gray light outside.

I also got a lot of writing done the week I was babysitting my nephew. I knew I only had 2 hours a day, so I had to make them really count. No e-mail, no web – no time! And I knocked off over 500 words a day, in two hours!

That's it. All that navel-gazing felt a bit odd while I was doing it, but once I had it out, I saw some patterns, and some ways to help myself. I highly recommend it as a way to work out your own writing blocks, and get started. Twelve teaching-free weeks are just around the corner!

(If you're in the mood for even more omphaloskepsis for a lazy Sunday, go check out the great post over at Dr. Crazy's place.)

**For example, at the top of one page is my ex's e-mail address, written down before we were dating, with a note to touch base with him about a movie we ended up not going to see. Which was kind of weird and unexpected.


Curt Emanuel said...

This is a great post. I keep a notepad by the bed just in case - it has the added advantage of really disturbing either my SO or the dog, depending on the night's sleeping arrangement, when I start flailing around for it (and the light switch) in the dark. The scary part of that is occasionally waking up and reading notes I don't remember writing - it's some sort of weird twilight zone between my conscious and subconscious. The other thing I do, when I feel I HAVE to write but don't have a clue where I'm going is just write. Usually I'll end up with several pages of complete crap but I seem to be able to get to something coherent eventually. And mornings are absolutely the best before the clutter of the day can screw with my thought processes.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

My experience has been that, even when I think I'm procrastinating, my mind is actually churning over what I am going to write (to some extent consciously, and to some extent unconsciously. So when i do finally sit down and start writing, a lot of the work has already been done, and the writing flows very well.

Corollary to this, I don't sweat it or get mad at myself if I find myself "procrastinating" instead of writing. BTW, omphaloskepsis is a cool-ass word. I never heard of that before now.

Sheep's milk cheese is so awesome. There is this one cheese that I love that is an Italian sheep; it is formed into a gourd-like shape, and then smoked while hanging, so it ends up looking a lot like this, because they hang the cheese from a string tied around the base of the neck:


Phul Devi said...

I'm with the Comrade: I feel that I do a lot of unconscious processing of ideas even when I'm not actually composing on the page. Or at least, I do when I'm in a writing space generally.

And: that's a truly amazing picture. I adore it!

squadratomagico said...

I'm with the Comrade: I feel that I do a lot of unconscious processing of ideas even when I'm not actually composing on the page. Or at least, I do when I'm in a writing space generally.

And: that's a truly amazing picture. I adore it!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Smoked caciocavallo is the cheese I was thinking of:

Apparently, it can be made from sheep or cow's milk.

Have I mentioned that I love fucking cheese?

Anonymous said...

Hey – how about writing in order to believe?

I just managed to actually publish something which began because someone challenged me to make a paper out of an idea I had which I wasn't sure was true. Either I was right, or I've fooled enough people that there's no difference.

More to the point, I never know what I really think until I've written it. My first drafts are never where the inspiration is. That's either before, when I'm scribbling plan chunks, or later, after I've left it for a week or so and come back and found that now I know what I meant to say.

In summary: first drafts are grunt work, but that euphoria you describe so well is why they're worth sweating out, and I wish I met it more.