And so, after a couple of fairly unproductive days of writing – or – not writing – as the case was – days where I’d meant well, had made a little nest on the couch, surrounding myself with not only a pile of bills, but a list of writing assignments and essays I’d started, but which were going nowhere. After all that, I found myself jogging in my town with a little group of work out buddies from my gym.
Most of us aren’t real runners, we just take orders from this horribly fit man named Nate who has no fat on his body, and who we pay to push us around. Yesterday he told us to run five times around a hot, city block, lift heavy weights – sometimes running with those weights – do planks, crunches and an assortment of other horrible things – all of it culminating in something called a burpy, where you throw yourself onto the ground, do a push up and then jump – no – leap into the air and clap your hands like you’re simply delighted, when in fact, you really just want to throw up. We did this like 25 times.
So there I was running and feeling sorry for myself because I’m certain I’m not built to run, and my middle aged legs feel heavy, and I’m huffing and puffing and tears are leaking out of my eyes, and I’m hoping that all this hard work will pay off so I can fit into these dresses which I want to wear for these upcoming weddings. And then out of nowhere the first line of this essay on branding I’ve been thinking about comes to me.
“For my 21st birthday my Aunt Marlene gifted me with a session with her favorite psychic, Linda, a middle aged woman in the Hollywood Hills.”
What the hell?
That line was a gift from the gods. “You poor, old, beaten down woman,” they were saying, “who has to run your sorry ass around the block 100 times with this crazy fat-less man – here – for your troubles – your first line.”
I went home, started a bath, and while it was filling I popped a cold beer and sat down at my computer, and for the next 10-minutes knocked out the first draft of the essay, just like that. The whole thing. Three days of sitting on the couch trying to write something, and the baby pops out in ten minutes.
While I do think it’s important to pay the piper – i.e. sit your ass down and stare at the page and put word after word down on paper – words that won’t end up in your story, but which will get you closer to your story, I also think there’s something to be said for some fresh air and a change of scenery.
It reminds me of something my old friend, travel writer, Jeff Greenwald said to me years ago, that he was writing even when he wasn’t writing.
That his mind was always percolating on a story, even if he wasn’t thinking about it directly. He might be catching a bus or sweeping his porch, but his story was getting worked, on some level, inside of him.
Me, I’ll take what I can get. If it means I have to run around a hot city block and throw myself onto the ground and kiss concrete, I’ll do it. But here’s what I want to remember when I’m grinding it out, working on a writing project:
1. The imagination is a mysterious thing. While it’s important to sit myself down and “work,” that’s only part of what is needed. The other part might happen when I’m on hold with the insurance company, sitting at a red light or jogging around my town. Like Jeff, I need to trust that I may be working even when I’m not working.
2. If I’ve come to a big fat blank – if I’m checking Face Book every 10 minutes, playing too many games of Words with Friends, or 100 Balls, or yes, Blitz, I play Blitz, maybe it’s time to get outside and water the plants or clean out my car, or sweep the kitchen, turn on some music, think about making lemon squares. Enough is enough. No shame in Crying Uncle.
3. Exercise is never a bad choice. Blood rushing around inside of you, no matter where it’s going, is good. Some of it will move to my brain. Blood is brain food.
4. I shouldn’t expect myself to sit for four hours and write. Remember that thing, Jane Anne Staw, my essay teacher told me about writing a book; “One hour a day,” she said. “Write for one hour a day and you can finish the book in a year.”
5. Coffee. When in doubt, have some more.
6. Morning is my best writing time. The critic isn’t awake yet, the metaphors are instinctive and come naturally. Note to self: Write early, come back for an hour at the end of the day to edit and write more.
7. Doing things that have nothing to do with writing – like last week when Stephanie and I walked the Bay Bridge – feeds my writer self because I’m in a fresh palette – I’m staring at the bay and walking over bridges, wind is whipping at my face. How can that not be good for me?
8. Being a writer isn’t a 9-5 kind of job. Don’t despair if a day goes by, maybe even two, when it appears that I haven’t been productive. It’s coming, it’s simmering, it’s somewhere. My job is to just keep sitting down, keep coming back.