Monday, May 16, 2011

Dumbo's Feather :: Writing even when your rituals fail you

If you know me at all, you've heard about my writing ritual and very likely discussed yours. And if you've been around this blog awhile you know that for the most part I think that writing rituals are a lot of malarky.

At the very least, they are only helpful until they become a crutch.  The only thing that matters should be getting the words going on the page. Nothing should help that process so much that it gets to a point where the writing stops if you're without it.

Of course if you've been around that much you also know that I am a coffee drinker with a writing problem. (Apologies to the ghost of Brendan Behan.)  It's an intrinsic part of my writing life. The first amazing sip that runs through my brain in the morning, turning the lights on and starting the machinery, the warmth of the ceramic cup in my hands (I hate cardboard cups), the heady aroma of Coffea Arabica wafting through my sinuses as I sit and contemplate the next sentence, the next index card, the next plot point...

Despite all my warnings, all my deep contemplations about the ways in which habit becomes ritual, becomes crutch, becomes problem, I've allowed coffee to slip under the radar.  I've even formed an attachment to the pauses occasioned by the need to go to the counter for a fresh cup or to the kitchen to make a fresh pot.

I've even been known to refer to it as "a cup of clever."
So what happens when I don't have that?

I'm about to find out.

Two weeks ago I had a conversation with a chalk drawing and at the end of the day was told that the medicines keeping the chalk drawings away didn't mix well with coffee. I'd sipped my last cup for at least four weeks.

At first I shrugged and said "oh well".  The headaches only lasted a day or two.  But before I knew it, two weeks had passed and I hadn't had a thought that I felt was clever enough to be worth writing down.

Now there is a blank page and a blinking cursor and the deep dread of having nothing to fill the space. Because I've had to give up my morning cup of clever and nothing I've come up with has yet been worth blemishing that perfect white space.

Frailty, thou art writer.

So all of you who have heard me rant at you about how you "can't write" until you've just the right moleskine, a special pen, a particular chair, a specific song, an old typewriter, a specific computer program, or whatever... now is your chance to gloat.  

Go ahead, I earned it.

But you only get to gloat until I sort out how to get focused and get the words on the page anyway. Because this is the world of "Writer heal thyself". There are only so many hours in the day and I refuse to spend any more of them feeling sorry for myself.

"Awake" is overrated anyway. 

Muses are annoying prima donnas.  You have to be able to write without them. And you have to be able to write without all the rest too. The comfy chairs, the ideal table in the perfect cafe, the pen that fits your hand just so... they will all slip in when we least expect them to. And when they fail, we have to keep writing anyway. 

Every day. Without fail. Do the work.

I know that, no matter what the mouse in my hat tells me, the feather's not magic.  I could darn well fly all along. These are the days when discipline and practice pay off.  My butt goes in the chair, my words go on the page. With a borrowed pen on the arm of a patient bystander if necessary.

Whatever you do, whatever happens to you... Just. Keep. Writing.

Please excuse me. I just thought of something to fill that blank page that's been mocking me from the other window.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).