Praxis Makes Perfect

Drawing in Circles

I suspect more than a few of you are writers, be it on a professional level or a personal one. I find the habits of writers interesting — how they do the hoodoo that they do-do, how they emcee their esprit and let free the potpourri of gris-gris. Or something.

So, I figure, I’ll toss out some of my writerly habits. Maybe you’ll see them and think, “Hey, nice idea.” Could be that you’ll say, “This blog is for assholes,” and you’ll pitch a lit cigarette at my eye. I’m not posting this to tell you that these are the things you should do, mind. They’re just the things I do. Every writer is his own wicked little critta. Every writer is his own recipe, and from that recipe comes a broth that might stink of bourbon and discipline, or of sleepless nights and Ambien-addled automatism.

Here goes.

  • I have to sleep, or I don’t write. I also don’t write at night. I used to, in college. Bleary-eyed, it’s three in the morning, I’m pawing at the keyboard with clumsy fingers. Not anymore. I get up early, pre-6AM, and I start writing soon after. Six hours of sleep minimum, eight maximum.
  • I need coffee. One cup that’s really two, because it’s a big mug. This is probably a lie, a lie whispered by my chemical dependence, but I cannot write successfully in the morning without that coffee. I don’t even want to try. I’d probably end up writing some hateful screed against babies and kittens, and it’d likely be in pidgin German.
  • A cup of tea also helps me in the afternoon.
  • I write in the morning, I edit and do other administratives in the afternoon. That may include “masturbation.” Don’t tell anybody.
  • You need blood for your brain to work. Blood is like the boot that kicks down doors up in your mindspace. Make sure it flows. If you think you’re suffering under the mysterious (and secretly non-existent) malady of Writer’s Block, take a walk. Work out. Mow the lawn (provided it’ s a push mower). The blood flows to your brain, throws open doors, and the ideas flow on a river of red. That’s what I do, and it works. Also, it’s exercise, and I know exercise sometimes burns the precious writerskin, but really, stop being a fat-ass and move your slugabed body. (I’m not calling you a fat-ass, Internet. I’m really talking about me. Shhhh.)
  • Yes, I just used the word “slugabed.” Don’t I get points for that? Rough audience.
  • Writing operates on discipline, for me, and discipline creates momentum, and momentum generates more of itself, like a dividing paramecium, or like cancer cells. Discipline means different things for different projects, but it always means I set a daily target, and I don’t end my writing for the day until I nail that target. I might keep writing beyond it, I might not. But I always hit it. Might be 2-3k a day on a project, might be 3-5 pages a day on a script.
  • That discipline means that — and I’ve harped on this before — you can’t rely on the Muse. In fact, the Muse doesn’t exist. You are the Muse. I could talk at length about this, but I’m going to instead just give a shout-out to Jess Hartley, who said it quite well on her Twitter feed: “Can’t wait for your muse to strike as a professional writer. Sometimes you have to tie that bitch to the desk and get it done.” Good call, Jess.
  • I cannot listen to music while writing. Before, yes. After, sure. During, never. It distracts. It fills my head with its words (even if orchestral), and I need my words, damnit.
  • Taking photos has helped my writing immensely. I feel like I’ve got a keener visual sense, if only because while taking photos, I’m concerned about a look, about a feel of the visual. Yes, a lot of writing focuses on the internal, but I really want the action (by which I don’t mean “Two-Gun Jonny leaps over two flaming barrels,” and instead mean, “Anytime anyone does anything”) to pop. I want to mentally ejaculate into your mind’s eye, that’s what I’m saying. Are you with me? Probably not, and that’s smart of you. Squit. Squee.
  • I work in Word. It used to be that I had to get the right “feel” of my visual, virtual workspace to get a project going — I had to fiddle with fonts, with magnifications, with margins. I don’t do that anymore. That wastes hours of my time. I write in whatever is there. Times New Roman or Calibri to start, and Courier New for manuscript format (and scripts). Er, though for scripts, I use Final Draft. It’s the only choice.
  • I don’t eat a lot of carbs during the writing day. Carbs slow me down. They give me that foggy feeling, because my body’s converting this shit to energy, and it’s saying, “Get up! Run around! Punch the dog! Jump out the window! Do something. Do something. Don’t just sit there like a slugabed! I swear to Christ, if you keep sitting there, I’m going to fill your head with pudding. Your whole head. With pudding. Okay, you’re obviously not going anywhere. This energy is totally wasted. Enjoy the head-pudding, asshole.”
  • Nuts. I eat a lot of nuts. Almonds, raw. Cashews, walnuts, whatever.
  • I allow for minor distractions. Used to be, said distractions would steal my fire in a swift grip. No longer. I can hop right back in without issue. So, I take five minutes here, five minutes there. Tiny little recharges. The Internet, though, can be a sucking time-waster, so when I’m editing or doing other development, I often unplug.
  • I sacrifice a bull every month, and then I empty its guts and live inside of it like I’m Luke crammed into a Tauntaun, and that gives me the mystical energy I need to continue. I like to say that I kill the bull with a ritual implement, some sacred athame, but really, it’s just a steak knife from Target.
  • Did I say “bull?” I mean, “human being.”

That’s it, for now. Them’s some of my habits. Good or bad, that’s what comprises my own crazy alchemical writer’s recipe.

I’m curious. What’s in your routine? How do you make the magic happen?

7 comments

  • Have you and I ever talked about the mythological, pagan, and ancient symbology of the original Star Wars trilogy? Not just the Hero’s Journey stuff that gets mentioned all over, but the images of sexual oppression and dogma that get called out all over — like sacrificing a Tauntaun to Luke after his first mystical vision, after wandering in an inverted desert?

    The Tauntaun is both furry and a lizard, demonstrating both its inherent unearthliness, but also that it is the meat of two animals in contact. It is a chimera, slain in Luke’s honor by the nonbeliever, and still it works, because there is real power in the act. (There’s also the question of whether Han is a non-believer or whether Han is a pagan.)

    I love this shit and could go on for hours.

    • Will, you had me at “sacrificing a Tauntaun.” You keep up the sweet talk, and I’m going to want to make a little chimera baby with you.

      We have not ever talked about this, but I am now hungry to talk about it. I’d say we could continue it here, but I have to believe you have a killer blog post in you on this subject.

      In particular, I am very curious of viewing Star Wars through the lens of sexual repression, because I totally believe that.

      — c.

  • I’m finding that Google Docs helps to distract me from my need to fiddle with things “looking right.” I can crank out a dirty draft in Google, then when I need a fresh look I can import it into Word or OpenOffice and monkey around with it.

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