Monday, August 24, 2009
Priming the Pump
What does a writer do when he puts something off until the last minute and realizes that he has a blog due and no subject? He falls back on the essayist’s standard trope, “how do you fill the blank page?” or, as put another way, “where do you get your ideas?”
This is not addressing my work specifically -- people have stopped asking me where I get the ideas for my stories and novels. I think they’re afraid of what I’ll say. I'm a little afraid myself. No, this is more about the classic situation of having time to write, the desire to write, and nothing to write about.
I am a big believer in the zen art of avoidance. If I am working on something specific and need inspiration to move forward, planning a long day of errands is a sure way to get the juices flowing. Usually the horror doing something constructive drives me to the computer with any idea I can come up with to avoid cleaning, shopping, paying bills, looking for work, or other household chores I’d rather write than do.
If that doesn’t happen, I start my errands.
An important part of the errand ritual is spending the entire time you are out of the house berating yourself for not being home writing. You must look at the clock often as you compulsively add tasks -- “As long as I’m out I might as well..,” -- that prolong the delay before you can get any work done. Evidently the guiltier you feel, the harder your brain works to end the pain.
All along the way my brain is invariably churning through whatever it is I remember about my last work session. What were the characters doing? How far had they gotten? Who said what to who? Scenarios of what can happen next pop in and out of my head as I rush from store to store, regretting that I didn’t bring a cart with me.
Somewhere in the middle of all of the list-checking and thinking ahead to the next stop and remembering what I forgot at the last, that damn THING I was trying to capture pops up out of the blue, clear as a bell, and I suddenly have no problem getting done with my errands and back to the computer to see how it plays out in real time.
It’s never easy, writing, but I have learned that sometimes it’s better to walk way than force it. And that brevity is the soul of wit. So I’ll stop here until I have something more significant to say next time.