Friday, December 28, 2012

"A Glimpse Behind The Curtain"

I am thinking that, every so often, it might be instructive to provide would-be writers, or people who are simply interested in the process, a peek at what’s involved in my providing blog posts on a regular basis.  So that’s what we’re doing today. (There is also a selfish explanation, which will be revealed in due course.)

Okay, now.  Everybody hold hands and imagine it’s two days ago, December 26th, 2012.  This is how it felt to be me facing this task on that particular day, the day after Christmas, Christmas being a day on which I had not written a blog post.  (By the way, you do not have to hold hands.  I just thought it would be friendly.  So here we go.  Whoo-oo-oo-oo.  Wavy lines.  We go back two days.)

A writer’s best friend is routine.  Well not their best friend – that sounds a little sad – but their most reliable adjunct…is routine.  It is not that is impossible to engage in regular writing without a routine.  But it really seems to help.  And if a regular routine helps me... 

Venn Diagram:  A regular routine helps me.  I am a writer.  A regular routine helps all writers. 

Auhgah!  Auhgah!  Defective Venn Diagram! 

The foregoing Venn Diagram example went from the specific to the general.  Successful Venn Diagrams go in the other direction!  I mean, come on, now.  That was just sloppy!

Okay, I’m sorry.   I need a routine when I write.  And it is conceivable that other writers – though not all of them – need a routine when they write as well.  Okay?


Thank you.  Why is a routine helpful for a writer?  Because a routine is calming, a routine is stabilizing.  The things you do before you start writing are already done; the things you do after you've finished writing will be done when you finish writing.  What remains is a circumscribed block of time allocated to the specific activity you are about to undertake.

“And now…we write.”

No diversions.  No interruptions.  It’s “Writing Time.”

The people around me respect my routine, and they leave me alone, which is another way that a routine assists in the process.  A regular – for me, five-day-a-week – writing routine constructs an impenetrable wall between me and the outside world, as in “Don’t bother him; he’s writing.”  You can see how that would dramatically cut down on intrusions – except for emergencies – creating the opportunity for more focused, and thereby, hopefully superior writing to be done.  

The routine must remain inviolately “The Routine.”  Imagine if I only wrote intermittently – when I felt like it – rather than routinely five days a week.  It seems to me that in that case I would be constantly I interrupted, if only to find out whether this was one of my “writing days”, or whether it wasn’t.  The situation would be intolerable.

Here’s what happens when I deviate from my routine.

Yesterday, I did not write.  It was Christmas.  Even though, from a traditional and/or religious standpoint, Christmas is – how shall I put it – somebody else’s business, I still refrain from writing on Christmas because people are less likely to spend time at their computers – engaged as they are in Christmasy activities – meaning they would be less available to check out Just Thinking, resulting in me wasting a perfectly good blog post on a tiny readership of atheists and shut-ins.  With apologies to both groups, it is simply not worth it.

So I didn’t write on Christmas.  And by so doing – or, more accurately, by so not doing – I decimated my routine.  Now, it’s December 26th, I am back at work, and I am sensing that the one-day interruption in my routine has indisputably taken its toll. 

The ideas are not…flowing.  In fact, there is nothing along the lines of “Hey, that would make an interesting blog post” arising at all.  I wrote on Monday.  I did not write on Tuesday because Tuesday was Christmas, and here it is Wednesday, and I can feel myself indisputably paying the price.

If Christmas had landed on Monday, for me, it would simply have been a long, non-writing weekend.  Since not writing on the weekends is a consistent element of my regular routine, not writing on one extra day of the weekend has never caused a problem.  Come Tuesday on such occasions, I am back at the computer, fresh and a daisy and ready to rock.

This year’s, “Tuesday Christmas”, however, had put a dent in not just one day, but in the surrounding days as well.  My piano lesson is regularly on Friday.  But my teacher had to play a Christmas party on Friday, so my piano lesson was moved to Sunday.  I train at the gym on Tuesdays.  But Tuesday was Christmas, so we rescheduled the training for Wednesday.  Which then required me to move my traditional “Wednesday Walk” to Thursday. 

Do you see what’s happening here?  My reliable routine has been entirely discombobulated.  Friday is Sunday, Tuesday is Wednesday, and Wednesday is now Thursday. 

On top of that – this is going to sound weird – but I am also messed up due to the fact that, this holiday season, the routine interruption in my regular routine also did not occur.  The thing is, not only do you – or at least I and conceivably other writers as well – need a regular routine, you also need predictable interruptions in that routine, not just to recharge your batteries, but because, since those interruptions occur at the same time every year, you have long since factored them into your regular routine. 

Every “Christmas Week”, for pretty much the past thirty years, our family has embarked on a “Family Vacation”, primarily to Hawaii, but also to New York, and, one time, to London.  For multiple reasons, this “Christmas Week”, for the first time in decades, there was no “Family Vacation.”  

With the numerous disruptions and the one missing disruption in my routine going on, do you really expect me to sit down and write something?!?

I can’t do it!  Having deviated from my routine, my rhythm and concentration are entirely out of whack!  It’s impossible!

Unless I write about the difficulty of writing when my rhythm and concentration are entirely out of whack because I deviated from my routine.

Which is exactly what I have just done.


JED said...

I enjoy all of your various themes in writing in your blog but I especially enjoy the entries when you explain how you do your job. I am an aspiring writer but my lack of a routine is one of many reasons I could never write professionally.

I have a (multi-part) question. I hope you have never had writer's block but do you find that having a routine helps to minimize the chance of that? Do you find that if (or when) you get stuck for something to write that it helps to change your routine? Is writing like drilling for oil where, if you stay in the same place long enough, you run out of ideas? Or is it more like an athlete where, if you have a bad game, you don't change your routine but continue doing the things you know well - knowing that, eventually, you'll get out of your slump? Sorry for the poor metaphors.

Jim Dodd

angel said...

Great job Earl!

Mac said...

As an atheist and shut-in, I understand your reluctance to write on xmas day. I'm sure your writing muscle - whatever that is (brain?) will get back to match fitness.