Monday, August 27, 2007

Your Writing, um, Habits

Back in the day, when Rhian and I were in grad school, the workshop was having a discussion about writing habits. Not as in when or how often we did it, but what we did when we were doing it. You know, you sit there for three hours--if you were typing the whole time, you'd do about thirty pages, and none of us ever manage that. No, you do other stuff--pick your nose, scratch your ass, read the news, whatever. Then you impulsively type, like, three sentences, and then you go back to picking your nose for half an hour, then you erase them all. And so on.

Anyway, back in workshop, one of our esteemed peers announced that masturbating was a regular part of the writing regimen. Good lord! We didn't want to know that!! Well...actually we did, and I personally am still glad to know it; and God forbid should I ever forget all my other memories of this person, that one will always remain.

My privates shall remain private here, but I will name some of the things I do while writing that aren't writing. Eating is a big one. On a big writing day, I always eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right there at the computer. (Here, you can watch me do it in this video.) When I was writing my (still, and possibly permanently, unpublished) crime novel, I played a hell of a lot of Mr. Do!, using MAME on my laptop. I post incessantly on a messageboard for recording geeks, and often take ten-minute breaks to play a little guitar. The guitar playing is actually mentally useful anyway, as it draws on the mathematical part of the brain, leaving the language bit alone to recharge.

So what do you while away the empty minutes with? If it's masturbation, I don't think we want to know, although if any of you manages to have actual sex while writing, we could definitely put aside our squeamishness to admire your mad skills.

9 comments:

gnomeloaf said...

I think there's a distinction to be made here between puzzling out something in your head, and actually sitting in front of the open notebook or laptop or whatever.

If the case of the former, I generally have a video game open -- the closer I am to what I'm looking for, the more monotonous the game. With the latter, I'm sorry to say, mostly it's staring out the window and drooling.

Maybe I should try reversing tactics sometime...

Lori said...

Eating is my first inclination too, which is why I now chew gum instead. A lot of gum. When I'm trying to puzzle through something, I knit a few rounds on a sock or something easy, but when I'm stalling, nothing beats checking email and reading blogs. Like right now, for instance.

jrlennon said...

Gum! Do you chew it demurely, with your mouth closed, or do you champ and smack and blow bubbles?

Lori said...

It was either gum or cigarettes and I'm too poor to smoke.

How I chew depends upon which character's head I'm inside at any given moment, I think. Yesterday, I was working on a scene involving two uptight old people who would NOT approve of gum, so I hid it in the corner of my mouth and snuck chews when they weren't paying attention. Today, it'll be a confrontation between two hothead brothers who want nothing more than to kill each other and be done with it, so I predict my gum-chewing will be more obnoxious.

I don't know how to blow bubbles. People always say it's never to late to learn, but I'm not sure I want to.

5 Red Pandas said...

I don't eat that much while working, except for maybe a piece of fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate. If I eat the chocolate I always let it melt very slowly because I'm not supposed to eat very much of it so I need to savor it. What's more important than food is the beverage. It doesn't matter what it is, there just has to be plenty of it. It's usually water, but it could be coffee, tea and very rarely some diet coke or other soda, but very rarely. The beverage acts as a built in procrastination tool because once I've had a large quantity to drink, I inevitably must use the bathroom. If I don't need to use the bathroom then I need to go refill my glass with water. Both trips serve as pacing/thinking time. Of course there is also the obligatory checking of the e-mail, no matter that I usually don't get any important e-mail because I don't send much e-mail anymore in an effort not to procrastinate so much. I can always count on a particular writer/musician friend to send me an inflammatory e-mail that I must respond to. He must understand that I need an excuse to procrastinate.

I wanted to respond to the earlier post about making the writing work as a woman, but I'm a week late I think. That said, I want to say that after much pained deliberation I did make the personal decision to quit teaching secondary school full time because I couldn't do that and write. I think that you need to decide what is your biggest priority. I was able to teach part-time last year and write a book. I made somewhat less money, but I had 75% more time to work. It was a good trade off for me, but I do realize that not everyone is able to make that kind of financial sacrifice. The main reason I decided to go back to school to become a library teacher is because I calculated the time involved on the job and decided that it was something I could do to support my writing. The way I see it, you have all the same vacation time (including summers off) as a teacher but you don't have the same amount of take home work, which any teacher knows is never ending. Some people choose to do more "meaningless" jobs such as retail or whatever (and I'm not saying those jobs are meaningless, that's just how they've been presented to me) but the way I see it, you do somewhat physical work for much less money, and that's not a good trade off to me. My friend is a public librarian and he actually does some writing at work. I've always felt like I had to keep these personal ideas about jobs that were compatible to a writer's life a secret because I feared other people would consider me lazy or what have you, but then I began to think that while they go home and relax, I go home and do more work- all of which I have not been paid for so far. Unless you're independently wealthy, "having it all" is a myth. Rhian is absolutely correct when she says that you have to make priorities. Keeping the apartment sparkling is very low on my list of priorities.

zoe said...

Don't tell anyone this, but sometimes I get my class to read silently for a period and I write. Obviously, that's a secret. In my defence, I like to think I'm modelling writing to them.

I don't know if that would float with my headteacher though...

the individual voice said...

That video ended with you reading a book. Was that an example of writing avoidance?

jrlennon said...

Not really, but making videos and posting them on YouTube certainly does...

--T. said...

I've started playing cassette tapes that I had recorded between eight and seventeen years of age. Nothing brings you back to the situation and feelings you had forgotten until you listen to a certain song and everything floods back to you, whether it's that first kiss, your first time, the broken heart, whatever. You remember what he said, what she said, what you were wearing, it fills you with such memory and emotion that you can really describe with accuracy how your characters can deal or not deal. Obviously it works better when writing about relationships, sex and death than a man building cabinets but it's something that I just started to try out. I have never took a break to play the guitar. I don't think it would work for me, once I start strumming, words escape me, I only hear music but I think that's because my childhood dance teacher force fed us rhythm. I can only write by hand, like other posters said, I find the computer distracting, windows with views too. Lock me in the basement with some looseleaf, a couple of pens, smokes, and a bucket to piss in, and I might see progress.