I like writing (or translating) early in the morning, before other people are up (or expect me to be available), mainly for the sense of uninterruptable time. If I can get at least a little done early, and then leave the document open on my computer, I can often add a little here and a little there, later in the day, even with interruptions. The work stays “present” in my mind, if I have that morning foundation. Changing venues also helps with moving from “interruptable” to “not available to anything but writing.” One semester, I got quite a lot done in the afternoon by moving to a coffee shop some distance from campus, before returning for office hours and a night class. A colleague once showed up and expressed interest in what I was doing, and I pled an imminent deadline so as not to have to talk.
A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail message about a book, or maybe it was workshops, I’m not sure, called “Shut Up and Write.” Wow. Really? You think I’m going to respond to an unsolicited message that rudely suggests that I’m talking instead of writing? I get enough rudeness from real people around me, thank you just the same. It’s true I often need to quiet the voices in my head in order to write, but I have found that treating them patiently and kindly is much more effective than being rude and impatient.
Writing is hard, I wrote in the last-linked post, because “to do it, you have to sit down and be quiet. You stop rushing around juggling tasks, stop talking to (and listening to) students, fellow committee members, partners, children, friends, and you try to turn off the task list in your head that says ‘grant proposal, answer e-mail, laundry, what am I going to wear tomorrow, what’s for dinner tonight, a cookie would be good right now, how many papers are left to grade, overdue book, gosh this room is a mess.’ Once you get quiet, anything lurking at the back of your mind will come out. It may be sadness, disappointment, anger, worry, even excitement about a good thing; but it will come out and try to get your attention. The Thing in the Back of Your Mind does not like being ignored or told to shut up. Well, really, who does? So it gets louder, and it calls up all its friends and supporters, like the Mean Censor and Self Doubt, so they can all gang up on you. The most concrete current Things are in some ways easiest to deal with. You tell them yes, this is a serious problem, and you are going to call the insurance company as soon as you have put in this half hour writing. Assure the Thing that it will get your full attention in its proper turn. This politeness will usually get it to ease up for 30 minutes or so.”
I still subscribe to this theory. Be kind to yourself. I guess if you need to be told to shut up, or need to treat your voices that way, then that’s your thing; do what works. But it’s not going to work for me any more than lighting candles as a pre-writing ritual. I don’t like scents, I don’t like smoke, I once had very long hair (fire hazard), I still have cats (fire hazard), I really do not understand the whole candle thing: candle-lit baths, for example, though I love baths; you can’t read by candlelight. Oh, hey, yesterday I did drink sherry in the bath while re-reading Protector in the middle of the day, and I did not drown in a drunken stupor; in fact I got out after an hour and did some work and some grading. It really was very nice.
So, I’d love to have a ritual to help me write . . . or would I? Actually, I think I’d rather be Julia Cameron and just “drop down the well” any time I have a few minutes and a blank page. Or an already-open document on the screen. I think I’d like a mantra or motto that would help me close the mental door on Things that want attention, or people who don’t actively need attention but who annoy me and take up mental space. Maybe ask if they’ve paid their rent, since I don’t like to let anybody take up my mental real estate unless they’re paying their way. There we go. I have written my way to a new mantra. “Are you paying rent here?”