Assignments

Getting ready to write begins with walking, in my routine. This is when I’m preparing to make the physical transition and focus energy. As my wife has observed, “You’re always writing, aren’t you?”

Yes, the writer(s) within rarely sleeps. He/she/they – we’re not sure of Writersville’s precise population – are always busy. Every sensory, mental, or emotional input can play a role in triggering ideas. Some ideas directly pertain to works in progress. Other inputs spill into a massive mental junk drawer for possible later use.

Splash writing gets the most attention. Something splashes in, and I write it out in my head. Later, I sit down and type it out.

I like writing in the late morning or early afternoon, and typically leave the house about ten to ten thirty in the morning.  My writing period, of sitting at the computer and typing, is not long. This is exactly how I’ve worked all my life, thinking long about things that I need to do and then using intense, short periods to execute. I usually write for about ninety minutes. Output isn’t huge, a thousand to three thousand words. My norm is sixteen hundred words or so. Back when word counts were measurements of progress, I counted. I no longer count, but I have an awareness, probably due to habit and repetition, of how many words I’ve done.

When I start walking, I put away thoughts of life problems, plans and issues, and turn to writing. That generally takes about eight minutes. This, along with the weather and other plans, dictates how long I’ll walk before writing. My preference is to walk at least ten minutes, but I’ll also use my Fitbit to decide how long I’ll walk. More recently, I’ve taken to walking about two miles before writing, so my walking and exercise is spread more evenly across the day.

But this is about writing, not exercising, and how I prepare to write. Sometimes, what I’m planning to write is more involved, requiring deeper, more prolonged thinking. So more time as I walk will be spent on it. But perhaps eighty percent of the time, I know what I’m going to write. For that other percent, maybe fifteen percent will come from the unfolding process that I sometimes employ once I sit down.

Finally, there’s that less four to five percent that’s a greater struggle. On those days, I’ve found it best to put the writers to sleep. Give them the assignment, and tell them to come back to me when I have something.

Then I walk. I stream music in my head. Note changes to the town, and the weather. Drift through thoughts and observations about lives and bumper stickers, or think about other novel concepts in progress. I’ll think about catfinitions, and possible blog posts.

Doing this today, I thought about how much the process really is like a teacher or manager giving out assignments, and then taking up the results later. Freeing mental energy by engaging in mundane issues and matters, or larger problems about which I can do little, frees the writers to use that mental energy and write. Then, sitting down, I’m generally well-prepared to begin. Well, eighty percent of the time.

The trick to all of this was that I’ve learned to be flexible about my approach, because I know more than one way will work. Deviations are acceptable. Even not writing, but thinking about writing, is acceptable, although it’s accepted with a grimace. Fortunately, that probably happens less than one percent of the time. In other words, of one hundred times sitting down to write, I’ll not actually write one time. And that’s cool; it’s not a reason to panic or to be afraid that I won’t or can’t write.

All this is evolved from those first efforts of sitting down with a notebook and pen, and mumbling to myself, “What can I write? What can I write?” The evolution has been helped greatly by the insights others provided, like Annie Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Damon Knight, and Elmore Leonard, and a plethora of blog posts and articles. Part of this, too, comes from understanding that my writing is a weaving process. Little of what I first write is how it appears in final form. That doesn’t matter, either, so long as I reach a point where I tell myself, “Fini.”

The other part of my process is that I like to have a cup of coffee or coffee drink when I write. Oddly, I’ll drink a quarter to a third of the cup in the initial writing session, and then the beverage will be forgotten until that point when I think I’m done for the day. Then I’ll pick up the cold cup and drink the cold beverage while I reflect about what I’ve done and what will come next. Drinking cold coffee disgusts my wife, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

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