Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Breaking the Ritual

Some call it ritual. Some call it compulsion. I call it a schedule. I wake up. I pee. I start the coffee. Then I start writing. This happens everyday and in this exact way. I never stray. Both Janice and Mark have said, or rather, they have both predicted my last day on Earth (something in the distant future, I hope) to be exactly the schedule I have described.
So, that's the schedule. I have a few more aspects to it. I generally begin my working day on a second draft of whatever I'm working on. That generally means a novel. I try not to get disheartened when I think about it. I mean in the last two years I've written seven novels using this schedule. So, ask me: are they any good? Who cares? I go to work everyday and I do it because I feel like I have to. Some mornings the second draft might be a short story, a blog post, and in the case of much of 2009, a screenplay. At any rate, this is where I begin the day: the second draft.
Once that's done, I look at the internet for a while. I look at all the email, and Facebook, in short the social stuff I felt so compelled to use in the beginning but now I just stare at for a few minutes. I do this before moving on to the next part of my day.
I remember, years ago when I was just figuring out that I wanted to be a writer in the olden days of analog, that we were so much more tactile. In those days I even had a very impressive collection of manual typewriters. Correspondence in those days were via the USPS. Incidentally, I don't even know how much a first class stamp costs anymore. In those days when I wrote I did it in a cell. I didn't realize that there were others like me. I see these writers now via the internet and I've developed rewarding correspondences with many of them. Although I know the “efficient” ways of technology now, I still hold onto most of my low-fi, analog roots.
After a few minutes of answering email and even requests on Facebook, I take flight and leave the house. I go to the park or a bar, or someplace else appealing. I usually avoid the library or the coffeehouse because there are too many distractions. Then, work begins.
For those of you who are on with the latest technology, let me tell you about the app I use. It is the greatest app I know in my work.
This is called a “pen and paper” app.
I use the old fashion composition notebook, the 100 leaves, 200 pages, wide rules and sewn pages composition notebook. It's very durable. Very cool. I've been using these since 1996. I use a Phileas fountain pen, a Waterman product. I recommend it for anyone who wants to try a fountain pen. It's inexpensive, easy to use and well, it's sexy. The current ink I use is a Namiki product. I like the ink, and I chose it because I thought the bottle was sexy.
The pen and ink app is the process for the first draft. Compulsion? Ritual? The routine? Yeah, all of them.
Occasionally, I'll write something fresh right on the computer. I have to be in a rather specific mood for that. Otherwise, it is just the way I've developed it; the same thing day after day and I doubt that'll change.
Last December my cousin Deana came to visit. Deana is just about the coolest person I know. So, despite her professional training and her work in physical therapy, she is an artist at her core. She's developed a knack for photography. Talk about the analog, she's got the digital camera but has made the move to using film too. I love it. While visiting Denver, I took her to Meininger Art Supply. Not only is Meininger's very cool, but my friend Richard Duggan of Modpress works there. So, while Richard and I we're catching up on new times, Deana looked over the racks of artists' stuff. She bought a brick of notebooks. There were six or eight of them, all different colors and all measuring 3” x 5” and they were shrink wrapped together. Later in the car, she opened the package, looked at all of them, then offered me one. I refused. What the hell do I need a 3' x 5' notebook? We all know I use the composition notebook which measures 9 ¾ x 7 ½.
“But you like yellow,” she said.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
At her insistence, I accepted the little notebook.
That was December, 2009.
It's October 2010 now.
I found the little notebook just last week. Where it had been hiding out, I don't know. I'd written some random Umbrella Factory Memorandum on the first page months ago than abandoned the it entirely so many months ago. A few days ago, I cut that page out, and shoved the thing into my back pocket.
A few days later, I was stumbling the internet. If you don't know, please check it out, what a cool thing it is. So, I stumbled a blog called Art of Manliness which gave me a great example of how to make a Moleskine PDA. Tongue in cheek or not, I got it.
Then I remembered the yellow 3” x 5” notebook in my back pocket. It is not a Moleskine. Rather it is a Writersblok. I then knew what I had to do.
I took the little notebook to work with me last Sunday. As many of you know, I'm winding down ten years of the service industry, and five years at Marlowe's this month. So, as you can probably guess, I'm getting somewhat separated from it already. Plus, Sunday nights are generally slow anyway.
Using a ball point pen and the yellow 3” x 5”, I wrote a story.


The story is not unusual. It is not special in any real noticeable sort of way. It does not vary in style or in voice. It is not different from any other story I've written in recent months. I just wrote it during working hours and in a small notebook using a different pen. Fun? Yeah it was.

Try it. Write a story using a different process. If you work with a pen and paper app, try using a computer. If you use a computer, try your cellphone and text yourself the story. And if you really want a task—fill an entire notebook with one story. I used all forty-one leaves, 84 pages of the Writersblok to write mine. What do you come to? What was it like to break the routine? Perhaps it was difficult. There are some of you out there who write anytime and anywhere and there is no real routine for you. Was this exercise useful to you?
For me, writing is not an act of divine inspiration, although I think there many be a little of that involved. I believe that writing is a task, a noble task, which needs execution. Just write. It gets easier, and it gets better, and so do you.

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