Posts Tagged ‘creative process’

I wrote my first book on Saturday mornings.

Between the job I had at the ad agency, the one I had writing a column for a local alternative newspaper and the job I had shooting, writing, producing and hosting my weekly television gig, Saturday morning was all I had left.  But above and beyond the tight schedule, there was a nearly insurmountable obstacle to my novel.  I was new and naive and had no idea what I was facing.  As time has passed though, I’ve come to understand a truth that all successful authors have mastered.

Writing is really boring.  No, that’s not it exactly.  EVERYTHING else is more interesting than writing.  That’s the only way I can explain it.

In order to write on those long ago Saturday mornings, I had to complete a vast and intricate ritual to make it possible.  The apartment had to be clean.  And I don’t just mean the bed was made  and the books were all shelved.  I mean it had to be photo shoot ready.  The floor waxed, the furniture polished, the laundry done, the dry cleaning delivered/picked up, the sock drawer sorted, the grout bleached, the porcelain gleaming and the dishes washed and put away.  Otherwise, disaster.

Here’s how Not Writing happens.  You sit down at the table with your coffee to write.  You light a cigarette (I used to).  You open the pen.  You leaf through your most recent scratchings.   You take a contemplative sip.  You review any notes you’ve made and begin to ask yourself “What’s next?”

As you stare thoughtfully into the middle distance, you see a dust bunny peeking playfully out at you from under the sofa.  And you’re done.  You don’t realize it yet, but your work day has ended before you’ve committed a single word to the page.

With the intention of getting right back to what you were doing, you go get the vacuum cleaner to chase that pesty bunny away.  You discover what a state the hall closet is in.  You take everything out of the hall closet to reorganize it, as you’ve been meaning to.  Amidst the detritus, you discover that iron you had meant to give your sister.  You call your sister to see if she indeed wants the iron.  You’ve never once used it yourself and can’t recommend it, but she did that time she visited and you remember she really seemed to like it.  She has no recollection of the incident but did you hear what happened last night at the Astor Bar? We should meet. Why not there?

When you finally get home, the guts of the closet are still spilled all over the floor and “What are all these papers doing on the kitchen table?”  The dust bunny, long forgotten, haunts the recesses beneath the love seat, poised to destroy another Saturday morning’s writing.

I never stood a chance.

Before I could write the book I had to master Not Writing.  The first step is admitting that Not Writing is infinitely more fascinating, seductive and satisfying than the Pulitzer, the Man Booker and making the Times best seller list all rolled into one.  Those things are great but they only might happen.  Once the socks are paired and sorted by color you will know peace and satisfaction every time you open that drawer.  Well, the first couple of times anyway.

Once I had made this admission the only possible solution was abject surrender.

Of course, all work on the three other jobs had to be completed and filed and the next week fully scheduled.  I did the marketing.  I repainted the living room.  The plants on the balcony thrived for all the attention.  There was no dust in the crevices in the base boards or under any of the furniture.  I retiled the entire apartment, even the closets.  I covered each and every dingy yellow tile in the bathroom with a gleaming square of malachite vinyl and carpeted the matching dingy yellow floor.   Everything that could be framed was hanging.  Every DIY scheme I ever had for the house was completed.

I spent large blocks of time thinking of all the Not Writing tasks I could imagine and got them all done by Friday night at bedtime.  It was even necessary to act preemptively.  I made plans for Saturday evening and booked Sunday so that I would not have a reason to pick up the phone.

Saturdays I got up, put on the coffee and hit the shower.

Breakfast was coffee and cigarettes in those days.  Since that was also the first step in my writing process, they happened simultaneously.  I sat down before the yellow pad I had placed on the table the night before – looking for things is a very dangerous prelude that can easily lead to Not Writing.  I unsealed the Pilot Razor Point, one of a multitude I had stolen from work for just this purpose and placed within arm’s reach well in advance.  (I’m certain any number of pre-laptop manuscripts languish in dusty, forgotten drawers around the world for want of ink in the favorite pen.)  At last, with a self-satisfied sigh and a desperate glance around the apartment for a loose thread or wilted leaf, I touched pen to paper and began.

And that’s how I came to write my first novel.

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