First, let me say: I am the worst.
Show me an honest, self-aware writer who’s never had that thought, and I will…be flabbergasted at their level of confidence and self-importance, actually.
But really, I’m the worst. I’m a writer, even when I didn’t say it. Even when I put my name to things, I didn’t really talk about it. When friends mentioned it, I assumed it was pity praise and a testament to our bond more than anything.
That assumption’s done. For better or for worse, this is my fate. I might as well embrace it, cause it’s not going away.
I delight in reading suggestions for writers. It’s cool, it’s romantic, it’s got that je ne sais quoi. Of course you want to write your personal opus. And you want it to be the best. Mediocrity isn’t in your vocabulary–which is superb. You know the person you are meant to be. Fill yourself up with that good good, those magic tips that’ll land you on the bestsellers’ list, get on college syllabi, earn yourself tenure. When people say your name they’ll say “You mean the writer?” Yasss, I love some good writing tip porn.
My biggest dream is to have that writer’s space they always talk about (a room of one’s own…sorry, I had to). Squeezing in a bit of typing on lunch breaks, after work on an uneven couch, or stomach side on a bed before a nap just doesn’t give the craft the respect I feel it deserves. I make do, but my Pinterests lean toward big oak desks facing huge windows with clutches of trees outside.
Oooh, another favorite is to set aside time every day to write. That right there is a fabulous life. I’m childless and unmarried, but finding time away from Star Trek reruns, Amazon surfing, last-minute brunch dates and darts to the corner store for last-minute tea? That’s gonna be a problem. But how colorful and quaint a concept: Muting all influences except your mind’s own, preferably staring out the window of your London pied-à-terre, a perfectly warm mug of tea to one side, a stack of completely legible notes to the other. Sixty. minutes. every. day.
Now lemme tell you how I get down.
I think about writing every day. Literally. I’m using that word in its absolute, truest sense. There’s not a day that I don’t see a story in a person, an establishment, an eavesdrop-er, overheard conversation, or an average experience suddenly turned extraordinary by a single surprised utterance. I don’t necessarily document it. In fact, I usually don’t.
Sometimes there’s not enough there. She’s a 65 year old in shiny spandex pants and a Hollister jacket pushing a baby carriage; so what? It’s New York. Or I’m cranky. Gentrification? Not today, thanks, this coffee cost me a day’s round trip carfare. Other times it’s blunt laziness. I don’t wanna. Let me be plain, writing is not silk smooth when you want it to mean something. I’m acutely aware of when I’m writing utter bullsh*t to get it over with (instantly invoking guilt) versus writing a piece I’ve toiled over proper. Writing something that’s adequate takes time, patience, and a psychic energy I learn more about continually. It takes a toll, and if I’m running on empty, it’s the first thing to fall to the wayside.
So this is how I write: when it comes to me. Might as well call it the ping. I dream vividly, and ideas come to me often in the shower, over something absolutely ludicrous and possibly unrelated to what ends up on the page. I write when I’m inspired. I’m priced out of my incredible writers’ workshop at the moment, but believe this: creatives need community. Writing in a vacuum…I might as well toss away antibiotics halfway through the course. It’s the nurturing and the encouragement of a gathering of two or more that makes the craft more respite, less chore. Workshops feed you. Find one at your speed and join if you’re serious.
See? I actually follow some advice. If a theme is persistent, it goes into my Word docs, my iPhone notes, or a partly filled journal, steno pad, notebook, legal pad… When someone has an interesting name, I make note on how to work it into a piece. I take pictures of odd-looking houses (I demand to know who is living behind every window!). I have about three recurring long-form ideas percolating. One began to push at me about two months back, but it’s partly nonfiction, and that’s its own challenge.
I’ve also learned to make better use of my everyday environment. When I feel the ping—usually on the weekends—there is indeed a system. I may love hip hop, but I get lost in it too quickly and down the rabbit hole I go, lost to YouTube and the like. Ambient, that’s my recommendation. I also like having lavender candles at the ready to better my mood. If I’m mellow, the words don’t hit as much mental interference. Then I sit cross-legged and hum for—nope, no humming. One can only go so far before you start getting too writer-y, and no one likes those types.
Aw, and I do enjoy the coffee shop crawl, occasionally. Those are days when, over several hours, I’ve convinced myself to write X amount of words for X amount of minutes (which generally translates into a half hour’s good writing and 40 minutes’ solid Web surfing while picking over a muffin worth a Happy Meal). And I do get a kick out of passing local spots where everyone’s laptop is open. I fantasize about dissertations being submitted, proposals being sketched out, final drafts where an index finger is four seconds away from hitting send—and undo, UNDO, Jesus! If it turns out all these folks are trust funders doing graphic design for album covers, that’s great too, but it would kill my vibe just a little.
Work past the internal struggle and still, there are foes. The outline does a halfhearted, lackluster dance with the crap first draft. I’m not sure I’ve written a proper outline since Obama won the White House. Stories for some are linear. For others, a scattered graph. Mine is a bursting kernel. Give me enough heat and the ideas will burst. If I’m in a cool mood—this happens occasionally—nothin’s poppin’. Likewise, the catch-22 of a copy editor allowing herself to write haphazard, icky sentences just for that sense of release and fulfillment; it’s a mess in my dome. This proofreader app hates me.
But I keep chugging. This is more or less a first draft, in that I’ve only read it six or seven times before uploading it to WordPress. I had a vague outline, in that I was inspired by peers’ feedback to put a bit of the struggle out there. Struggle, and progress. So soak up those advice columns, but remember to wring out the excess. Know you’re not the worst. And really, just keep writing, in whatever flow works for you. That’s the best advice I’ve been given, and that I can give. It’s all about the writers’ life, baby.