sometimes writing is like this ...
I’m sorry if all my posts are about NaNoWriMo lately, but that is what is consuming my life these days.
This is November: furiously writing Unlovely, which, at 8716 words (10,000 by tonight!) is going much better than I thought, even if it is rough; watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother online and as a result, my life is filled with much more uproarious laughter with the occasional snort; anticipating the arrival of my niece or nephew any day now; avoiding getting sick and feeling like Wonder Woman with my crazy amazing immune system; looking for jobs on the Internets for the New Year (can you believe it’s going to be 2010!?!?); looking for cheap-ish apartments, specifically in the High Park/Roncesvalles area, also for the New Year, and if I get a job here; beginning to get excited for Christmas, which is unusual for me at this time of year, but is probably brought on by the addition of Baby Potstra this year, the window display at The Bay, the fact that I’m no longer a student and don’t have any deadlines looming over my head, and the Christmas drinks at Starbucks …
Anyway, I was recently perusing the Internets and found this interesting little article over at The Wall Street Journal. Because writing is such a solitary, personal experience, I find it illuminating to read about how writers write. Despite the romantic images of brooding intellectuals in dark corners of cafes (most likely in Paris), scribbling on napkins, writing is not the most glamorous of art forms, unlike the visual or performance arts.
I’m always intrigued by movies about writers and the way they convey the writing life, seeking to make the profession interesting. Most often, the writer is featured at their writing desk or typewriter or in front of a laptop, while their inner monologue is heard as a voice over and text or handwriting is interposed on the writer, brow furrowed in deep concentration, occasionally glancing to look outside a window with a glazed look and then returning to the writing with a renewed vigor. It’s been done well (The Hours, Little Women, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Wonder Boys, etc.), but it’s definitely not as exciting as watching Jackson Pollock throw his body into splattering paint on a large canvas.
Since writing, like reading, is an experience that happens in one’s own mind, community is sometimes desired but not always beneficial. While I’ve talked about my novel with a couple people on a surface level, I’ve stayed away from joining a NaNoWriMo community and communal writing events. Maybe it’s just me and my lone wolf mentality, but in my experience, writing clubs and groups are more filled with ego-stroking and undercurrents of competition than constructive criticism. I’m protective and have only ever talked about what I’m working on with my significant other and a few close friends who happen to be writers themselves and will say something other than, “Oh, that’s nice.” Which is why I love to read about how some of the “great” writers go about their craft.
Ideally, I like to write in bed with complete silence. No music, no chatter, no distraction. I have a huge cup of steaming hot tea and my dog is close by, giving me cuddles when I need some inspiration (this fantasy takes place back home). I’ve always romantically held on to the idea of writing in cafes, but the truth is that I’d probably end up people-watching instead of actually writing and the sound of blenders and coffee grinders would probably make my head spin. But I’m getting better, having worked at a newspaper this summer with very chatty coworkers and the radio playing the whole time. I’ve even brought my USB key to work so I can work on my novel in between assignments. I’m learning to adapt and write stuff down even when I don’t feel the burst of inspiration, which is either there or it isn’t. I haven’t written anything creatively–other than bits of ideas scribbled in notebooks–in years, and this NaNoWriMo experiment is forcing me to get over fear and insecurity and whatever else was holding me back and actually write. Pure catharsis.
Here are some highlights from the WSJ article I found to be particularly interesting:
- Richard Powers also writes in bed. Maybe it has something to do with associating bed with sleep and the dreamlike state, but it’s the ideal place to write. Especially if it’s comfy and overflowing with pillows
- Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood never get writer’s block. Of course not!
- Kazuo Ishiguro “auditions” narrators by writing several chapters from various points of view
- Junot Diaz listens to orchestral movie soundtracks
- Every sentence Amitav Gosh writes goes through at least 20 revisions (Holy editing, Batman!)
- Russell Banks’ novels start out as a single sentence or phrase. Me too!
- Colum McCann will print out a chapter of his work, staple it together like a book, and take it to Central Park, pretending he’s reading someone else’s book
- John Wray writes on trains
How do you like to write? What are some of your own quirks and ways of averting writer’s block?
I’m finding that, if anything, this NaNoWriMo experiment is like the opposite of writer’s block. You just keep writing despite your mind telling you “you suck.” Because you probably don’t.