Some days I walk down the hall to the office thinking of other things I’d rather do than write. You know, procrastinator thoughts. Paint a room. Clean the garage. Pay bills. Other days I walk down the hall like I’m going to a party. Thoughts are rolling. Then there are days when it’s a ho-hum stroll. Whatever my mood, I manage to go into the office. Step one: In the office. Check.
The next trick is to stay in the office and not succumb to urges to leave. You know, that sudden desire for a fresh cup of coffee way out in the kitchen or the compelling need to turn on the TV for news or the lure to sit in a comfy chair with a good book. Before I can run away, I sit in the desk chair and roll it into place, suddenly under the gaze of a Beanie Baby called Nanook and under the spell of three crystals beneath the monitor. They’re telling me to focus. Step two: In the chair. Check.
I turn on my computer. While I wait for its R2-D2 wakeup sounds and Phantom of the Opera chord, I switch on the printer. It serenades with bells and chimes. A regular early morning sound fest. The computer and printer complete their early morning stretch, prep for my writing dance. Step three: Warm up the equipment. Check.
Next I take out my journal and grab a favorite pen, a Uni-ball Signo. I begin to write. Into the journal go the date and time, usually somewhere between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Current hot topics or uncensored thoughts or private feelings like anger, hurt, fear, sadness or all things happy go down on the pages. The entry usually takes no more than a few moments because the words fall onto the page easily. I don’t have to censor or be politically correct or be concerned about someone’s reactions to the content. My eyes only. And my brain is getting the signal. Step four: Warm up myself. Check.
After that, an email scan reveals who I have to answer later or if there is something that needs an immediate response. Social media takes its moment. I check Facebook with a quick scroll of my page, of the three sites I administer, and of the two closed groups in which I participate. Any responses are quick. I don’t let myself dig in or linger. I’ll do another check when I’m done writing that day or during a writing break. Some writers stay away from email and social media, view it as a distraction, and deal with it at a different time. I use email and facebook as part of the writing prep. Step four continued: Warm up myself. Check.
Then I roll into the current project – a short story, an essay, a poem. The document is opened and I’m in. The words may fall onto the page or it may be a slug fest. Step five: Open the doc. Check.
I’m reminded of the many allusions by authors of putting your seat in the seat and staying there. I’m also reminded of Dennis Lehane stripping away the romanticism during an author talk by saying he goes into his office and goes to work. That’s his job. I agree with his POV. That’s what I try to do. I go to work, some days more brilliantly than others. Step six: Write. Check.
Sometimes, though, all bets are off. I don’t go to the dance. During the day or night I’ve been writing in my head, getting an idea, figuring out a better way to say something or solving a story problem. In the morning I hurry into the office, turn on the computer, open the document, and dig in. My brain knows it wants to write. I’m focused like a laser. Other times there may be a deadline. No dance then either. Into the document I go.
I don’t know if I get better results by using the slow dance ritual or by just jumping in. The biggest take-away is, either way, I’m writing, whether I arrived at that point slow or fast. (I’ve also been known to be very productive writing in a notebook in a doctor’s office or at a Starbuck’s.) But mostly I get “in the mood” with the above six simple, unadorned, unromantic steps. Here they are again:
Go to the office.
Sit in the chair.
Warm up the equipment.
Warm up myself with a writing ritual. e.g. journaling, writing email and social media responses.
Open the document – short story, chapter, essay, poem.
And write. (Go to work.) And some days will be more satisfying than others.
And writers have been known to play music or light candles or have a bottomless coffee pot or glass of liquid. If it works, I’m a fan. Love to know your secrets!