Routines: A Brief Respite from "Story" (or A Writer’s Dance)

Every morning I get up and I fix myself my coffee and I write in my notebook for two hours.  I don’t write anything in-particular.  Sometimes it’s personal.  Sometimes it’s a writing exercise.  Sometimes it’s observations on this or that.  Sometimes it’s monologues or scenes from whatever I’m writing.  I heard once that’s what Hemingway did.  He would write in the morning for two hours and fill journal after journal.  Then he would burn them.  They weren’t for the public to read.  They weren’t even for himself to read.  It was just writing to write. It was about the physical act of writing.  Like running in the morning would be for a marathon runner.  It’s not about doing better or improvement.  It’s about warming up for the day.     

I started writing in the morning with Mike.  He’ll sit on the couch, his legs stretched out on the coffee table, his coffee balanced on the sofa cushion, his notebook on his knees.  He leaves that notebook there, on the coffee table, with the pen on top of it all day so that it’s there the next day.  I’ll sit and watch him sometimes and I’ll wonder what he’s writing about.  I’ve never asked and I’ve never looked in the books.  I’ve been tempted, but I’ve never actually done it.  I started writing in the morning because he does.  You can’t talk to him when he’s working in the morning.  He’s locked in.  I started writing in the morning because there wasn’t anything else to do.  I don’t really get much out of it.  I can’t really focus so early in the morning.  Sometimes I’ll just sit with the pen hovering above the page while I’m going over in my head what I need to do for the day.  Or wondering what Mike is thinking.  Is he writing about me?  About us?  What if he isn’t? What if he never does? But, mostly, I write in the morning because I don’t want him to think I’m not a writer.  I know he thinks that anyone who doesn’t write like that isn’t a writer. 

Sometimes it’s a struggle to get to the computer.  And when I get there I’d prefer to go to all of my favorite pages on the web and just read.  The news.  Gossip.  Humor.  Movie reviews.  I love movie reviews and movie trailers.  Sometimes I spend hours watching movie trailers.  Even for movies I’ve already seen.  I usually start writing when there isn’t anything else to do or I’m waiting for something else to happen.  I don’t write every day.  It feels like everything I write I’m connected to and I should want to use for something.  I wrote it so it must be important.  I can't throw anything out.  I save every draft.  I box up every single journal.  Everything is precious.  I don't even really know why.  Except when I'm cleaning out my office and I'll come across something and I'll read it...I get lost.  It's like time travel.  There I am.  I want to be that girl again.  The one who still writes poetry and believed her words would change the world.  I also wish I never had been that girl at all.  That girl turned into this girl.  And this girl doesn't know who she is anymore. Fuck.  That wasn't bad.   I should write that down.   

I don’t write just because.  Usually.  I mean, I'll have an idea, like, "Brady Bunch Meets The Munsters on Haunted Island".  I go to my friend Gary and I say “Hey Gary, want to direct this idea I just had?” And he’s like “Sure, sounds great how about May?” and I say, “May sounds good.” Then I go to the bar and I pull out my pad and I write until I’m done.  Then I take it home and I type it up and I correct the spelling mistakes and I email it to Gary.  Then he casts it and puts it up.  So, you know.  Maybe there’s some bits in the middle where I’ll write some more, but over all.  You know. Done.

I write really fast and usually I have a specific idea of what I’m working on and what I need to get done.  But I’ve usually got so many projects happening at once that I have to segment the day out.  In the morning I’ll usually write on a secret project. Something I’ve been thinking about writing and I can’t get it out of my head.  The morning is good for that.  Then if I hate it, I can pretend it never existed.  I work all day, but it’s a desk job and I can usually pretend I’m working on something else while I’m writing.  That’s usually when I’ll work on something that I just need to fix a scene or there’s reading that night and I need to add a monologue or whatever.  I always write on lunch breaks.  No matter what.  After I get off work I go to a bar near my house and that’s when I’ll work on something that needs more time.  Then I’ll go home for dinner.  I’m terrible after that.  And I’m usually busy.  Sundays are usually my writing day.  Those days I’ll wake and usually write through lunch and then I’ll spend the rest of the day doing whatever.  So, you know.  I don’t really write much unfortunately.  There just isn’t time.

I need deadlines.  I can’t just sit down and write.  I need there to be a reason.  I mean, except for a long vacation.  I’ll just be sitting around and I’ll get bored and I’ll have to do something.  That’s when I write a lot. I’ll totally become obsessed with something.  Like this one time, I really could not get the idea of magicians out of my head.  I wanted to write this love story.  Henry, a first class magician, but he uses real magic.  But no one believes it’s real because they think everything is a trick.  And how do you prove magic is real, you know.  And he travels, he’s a traveling magician, and he does shows, like tent shows, and this kid comes, who’s a preacher’s son, I love preacher’s children stories.  Those kids are fucked up.  And, any way this isn’t at all like what Anne is writing.  This isn’t a traveling carnival show or a gay version of the “Rainmaker”.  This guy uses real magic.  And this boy, who believes in god and faith and all that, he resist the magicians love for a little bit,  I mean you can’t have them just fall in love right away because then there wouldn’t be a story, but it’s a tragedy and the magician tries to use his magic to make the boy’s life better or something but it ends up killing the boy.  Anyway, I started this over Christmas and I got about half way through it and then vacation was over and I had to come back and I never picked it up again.  Maybe I’ll work on that next.  Anyway, right now I’m writing a ten minute play for a festival submission.

I heard Anne one day say that she hated the act of writing.  Actually hated sitting down and doing it.  She went on to compare herself to some famous woman writer,  who knows who because Anne never remembers names when it really matters.  Anyway, Anne made up some story about how this famous writer would lock herself in her room with a whiskey and a pack of cigarettes and pace around her typewriter like a caged tiger until she felt she was sufficiently sauced to attack, literally attack, the project at hand.  And that's all bullshit. Anyone who does that is not a writer. I don't trust people who call themselves writers but don't like writing. Anne is a person who at one point conned people into believing she could write or she's called herself a writer often enough that one day she decided she needed to produce some actual work to prove it.  So, like any fake,  she hates the world for not believing the lie.  Real writers only hate themselves. And they hate themselves because the only thing they are capable of, the only thing they love, is writing. Meanwhile, the whole rest of the world is doing.  The only thing a real writer hates more than themselves is a fake writer who is perfectly capable of doing something, anything, else.  

I just keep this little pad in my pocket and I pull it out and write all the time.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a disease or something.  Most of the time I wish I was writing because when I’m not, I don’t know what to do with my hands.  And I’ve heard people in writing classes say that asking them why they write is "like asking them why they breathe."  I can get behind that.  But not that that's entirely a good thing.  And that’s not to say I’m good at it or anything.  I just can’t stop myself.  I want to.  It seems like a waste.  When there are friends around and we're waiting for a table at a restaurant.  Everyone is talking and chatting and I can't follow the real conversation because I'm making one up.  When there is some terrible tragedy on television I should be following it, but I'm taking down notes for a fictional story. All the time.  While the real world happens my head is down and my mind is somewhere else. So, no, I don’t have a routine. Unless you count rewrites.  I only do rewrites after 4pm.  You know.  When you get that second wind of the day.  If I get in a good groove I can work all night.  If not, I go see a show.

I need a routine.  I’m not a good writer.  And I don’t mean that what I end up writing isn’t good and I’m not fishing for compliments.  I mean, I feel like good writers do have a routine.  I feel like there is a version of my perfect self out there and if I can just get to it I will be a good writer.  The perfect version of myself wakes up early and writes and then goes running and then takes a shower and does her hair.  Then she writes some more.  Then she spends the afternoon submitting or emailing theatres and artistic directors and directors and making connections.  Then, my perfect self writes some more or reads and then she has a salad and soup for dinner.  Then she goes to a show. She introduces herself to everyone.  Then my perfect self goes out for one beer.  Just one beer. And then she goes home and writes some more.  And then my perfect self reads herself to bed.  And she’s perfectly happy being alone.  And then she sleeps all night and wakes up as fresh as a daisy and does it all over again.  Yes.  That sounds nice.  Then I would be a perfect writer.  A good writer. 

I write every morning for two hours.  I time myself.  Exactly two hours.  I start with a character exercise and then I’ll do a scene exercise.  Then I’ll review the notes from the last writing session and I’ll reread my script and I’ll make notes about what to do in my next writing session and then I’ll put it away.  But I only do that after my morning tea and breakfast.  After I write I exercise and then I head to work.  After I get off work I’ll write for two more hours, but this time I’ll get right to the project I’m working on.  I always have notes and a task list for each time I sit down.  Then I’ll set up tasks for the next time I write.   On Sunday evenings I go for longer sessions.  I don’t know how any one else writes any differently.  

When I first started writing my daughter had just been born and I did it mostly to have something nice to do and to take my mind off…things.  It was an easy and quiet way to just…go somewhere else.  But, I had to take my moments when I could.  I felt like I was stealing time away from housework or job hunting.  My mother would come home…I lived with my mother at the time…and she would be so angry.  I’d hide the pages I wrote from her and I’d make her think I was just messing around with…I don’t know…soap operas or anything.  I mean I did.  I love Guiding Light. Oh Lujack! Now that was a character.  When those boots would come on screen, you knew there was something good coming!  Anyway, the older my daughter got, the more…no…the time became different.  I would steal more of it.  Tell you the truth, I think I sent off that first manuscript just to get it out of my house.  I couldn’t bear throwing it away. And it was getting to big to hide. Anyway, what was the…right.  So now I just steal time all day.  But it's hard to stop feeling guilty.  All that stolen times adds up.  And some things just don't make up for it.  Where does it all go? All that time you should have spent living? Does someone else get it?

I'm not really a writer.  I mean, I'm a writer but I'm not someone who self identifies as a writer.  I'm a creator. I'm building a consciousness.  I'm testifying about the fucking plight of fucking humanity.  I'm not going to spend my time writing about my ex-boyfriend and who's fucking who.  I'm not going to waste precious time writing about my reactions to 9/11.  The world is coming to an end.  I'm going to communicate that how ever I can.  I'm going to get people to listen.  Maybe it's with song, maybe it's with dance, maybe it's by screaming into a bullhorn.  I dont know, but I'm not going to spend my precious time molding traditional square boxes to fit into traditional square pegs.  And if my creation isn't going to be traditional, my creative process can't be traditional either.  I will build as the need demands.  Let the form follow the function.  So, yesterday, I spent the whole day spitting ink onto the wall.  My teeth were really blue, but the wall really fucking had something amazing to say.  You know?  

It's never enough, you know.  Whatever it is, it's never enough.  So, I just sit down and work. If something good comes along, I take it.  If it doesn't, then whatever.  This isn't really the only thing I've got  going on.  I mean, not in the working world or creative world.  It's not even really a first priority.  I just like it when, sometimes when I'm real lucky, I forget I wrote it.  You know when you are watching something good and you think to yourself "Wow, this shit is popping!"and then you go "Oh shit, that was me!  I wrote that shit!" And that feeling is awesome.  But you can't chase it down, you know.  You just get lucky sometimes.  Writers are like baseball players.  They're superstitious.  If a baseball player gets in a good groove they'll wear the same socks every day or never shave or whatever.  A writer hits a good groove and they'll write at the same bar every night.  They'll use the same pen.  They'll sit in the same chair.  Whatever it takes, because it's rare.  That good feeling is fleeting.  And when it's gone, you feel like shit.  You feel like it's your fault or you blame the world or you blame your lover or you blame your parents or you blame your pens.  But, really, it's just luck.  I don't chase luck.  I don't look for it.  So, you know, I'm not really a writer.  I'm just on a lucky streak.   



Claire Rice said…
Oh and please, please read this amazing blog by Meg Cohen. It is full of things you need to cross stitch on a pillow.
Christine said…
I'm out of my usual routines right now. That is to say I have exhausted them all. Now I know that processes evolve just as styles and the work itself. When I was younger, I didn't understand that there is not just one way of writing and was constantly looking for the "right" or "best" way, though I still often fall back into that trap.

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