Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing inspiration: thinking more like a writer

I was thinking the other day about two writing posts: Sisyphus's post about Dr. Seuss's hats and one by Natalie Houston over at Profhacker about thinking like a creator (no link; I already spent 15 minutes too many fighting with the Chronicle's search feature and not finding it). In the last six months or so, I have started to think more like a writer.

By "think like a writer" I don't mean someone like Joyce Carol Oates, who clearly must write 3-5,000 words a day, or the cool folk who get published at McSweeney's, or the writers on the sidebar. I don't know what their thoughts are.  In interviews they tell us a little about what their processes are but not necessarily how they conceive of themselves as writers.

Instead, it's more like this:

  • I need or want to work on this project every single day and will neglect other things (hello, student writing! hi there, department reports!) to give it room in my head. In other words, even if I'm staring at a screen or leafing through a book or seemingly not doing much, it's still writing, and it doesn't mean that I should stop and do something that someone else wants me to do.
  • I have gotten back on the wagon with, Scrivener, and all the rest and am now on another streak after travel knocked me off the one I had going before.
  • I have trained myself to think about the project first thing every morning and try to get some words down right away. If it's in your head in the morning, it stays in there for the rest of the day, even if you're folding laundry, and you can often get good ideas that way.
  • Same holds true for not wanting to start: if I force myself to start taking notes or revising and editing what I wrote previously, new ideas start emerging and I can't wait to get to the real writing.  That's the consequence of writing every day for a long period, I think. 
  • When I see a writer on Colbert or Stewart, I am no longer filled just with mild envy--"she's published another book"--but with an immediate rejoinder--"and so will you, if you get your act together and finish this one, which is this close to being done." 
  • When I read a bad book not related to work and think, as I did a few weeks ago, "I could have knocked this one out in a weekend" (and trust me, so could any blogger), I think "well, why don't you try, when you're done with this one?" This is, I recall, how James Fenimore Cooper wound up writing the Leatherstocking tales after someone raved about Jane Austen, so maybe there's hope. 
  • It seems there's an in-the-book zone, when everything I hear seems part of some larger connectedness that can tell me something about the book. Yes, this is how Area 51 and JFK conspiracy theorists get started, but it's pretty benign if it's about your own writing, isn't it? 
  • Other issues that would usually occupy some brain space (MOOCs, jobs, undermining humanities, gender issues, and all the rest) are getting shunted aside in a major way right now because I just want to write. 
And I just want to be done, even if Stephen Colbert's bookers aren't going to call me any time soon. 


Anonymous said...

You can do it!

sophylou said...

Love this post. I am just back from a fabulous vacation trip visiting a professor friend, full of good talk and thinking and writing. (I am a PhD w/a 9 to 5 job and yes, academic writing/thinking/talking is a happy vacation for me-- just going to own it!). These are all things I want to keep in mind too. Go us!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Now that's an inspiring post.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--I hope so! I think I can, anyway. What's that thing Yoda says: "Do or not do; there is no try." Yeah, that.

sophylou--I can totally see how that would be a happy vacation for you. The only time I get to talk about the project is on this blog, with all of you, and I so appreciate it.

Dame Eleanor--thank you! I have your writing group to thank for a big chunk of it, you know.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think Yoda had a fixed mindset. Trying often leads to success! Do or not do often leads to not doing.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--now that I think of it, you're absolutely right. Thanks!

sophylou said...

I'm with nicoleandmaggie. Have been thinking a lot about sidling into getting started, as in, sidling up to a project, saying, hmm, here's this little thing I could do, and then I start to get engaged. "Do or not do" feels too inflexible. Also, you can imagine Supergrover saying "this little thing I could do..." if you need the Frank Oz voice effect....

undine said...

sophylou--"Do or not do," on reflection, is not a great mantra. I like your idea of sidling up to a project.