Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing Without Rituals

by Allison Pang

Okay, so the truth of the matter is that I have no ritualistic approach to writing. Quite honestly, I don't have time for that. While I love the concept of having a nice neat little bit of sacred space to write, the reality is that even if I should clear up the desk, or the office, or some back corner in my bedroom, it will invariably be invaded by small people tracking mud and leaving crumbs in their wake. Or transformers. Or Barbie. Or transformers wearing Barbie's head.

There's nothing particularly sacred or inspirational about decapitated Barbies. (Or maybe there is, but I'm not sure it's the sort of inspiration I'm looking for.)

My desk right now should be probably be outlawed as some sort of hazardous spill zone, but that's a separate post in its own right.

When I first started writing to get pubbed, I didn't have much of a system. I made up a lot of excuses as to why I couldn't get any writing done on a particular day. I don't know if it was fear of failure or fear of success, but one day I finally decided that yes, I wanted this - and if I wanted something to happen, then I needed to write. Buying another book on how to write doesn't do anything except make me feel good for five minutes. After all, I'm *learning* how to write, right? Hmmph.

But I know the procrastination beast pretty well these days. I can fool myself quite easily that I'm doing something...even when I know I'm not.

I can't really fight against my nature, though. I don't usually find writing in of itself as anything particularly sacred. It is what it is and sometimes it's a struggle. I often feel like I'm some sort of literary mafia queen, where I have to threaten my brain to get the words out now, or I'm going to shove a decapitated horse head into the power supply. (Doesn't always work.)

I don't know if that is just a symptom of the stress in my daily life, but I allow myself to be distracted pretty much all the time. (I always have though. I wonder if might not have some version of ADD or something.) Even when I shut off the internet and there is no one around me (rare as that is), I will get up out of my chair and just stroll around the house aimlessly for ten minutes. I'll eat. I'll dance.  I'll write a hundred words...and then I'll get back up again.

I still get my 1000 words done (or whatever my daily goal happens to be that day - but on work days, it's 1000 due to time constraints), but it's a long, drawn out process. Maybe that's just the way my brain works. Or maybe I'll never be cut out to be one of those people who sits and writes all day. It's not that I don't want to write. I do. The story is there...but I have to drag it out of myself kicking and screaming nearly the whole time.

One thing that I cannot do is force it. There's a difference between the muse being coy and wanting to be flirted with and the muse who's shut himself up in the bathroom to wax his chest.The more I try to do it when I don't really want to, the more reasons I find to sit and ignore the keyboard. I don't go so far as to launch Dragon Age 2 or anything like that, but all of a sudden my toenails will get very interesting.

With that in mind, I bought a netbook - it goes pretty much everywhere with me. I've had to learn to become the stealth writer. I try to set aside time every night to write...and that works to a point, but knowing that if I'm stuck somewhere for any length of time becomes much easier to bear if I've got the ability to launch the manuscript and go. If I'm at the doctor's office, the kid's basketball practice, lunch-break, wherever. I've become the master at ignoring the outside world, but that sort of focus only happens when I am ready to write. (And I hit the muse over the head with a baseball bat and drag him back to my story cave.)

It may not be the most graceful systems, but it's the only one I've got right now.


  1. "It is what it is and sometimes it's a struggle." - truer words were never spoken. I've heard other writers talk about writing as if it was some sacred thing, but I never got it. Sometimes I'd wonder if I was broken in some way because I didn't get the whole sacred aspect of writing. Thanks for posting this, Allison. I needed it. =o)

  2. ...and the muse who's shut himself up in the bathroom to wax his chest.

    ~snort~ Now I totally picture your muse as RuPaul. "You betta WORK."

  3. I agree completely! I don't have a ritual either. I wish I did because maybe it would make me more productive, but the fact of the matter is I write when the muse is upon me. Forcing it only leads to crap I'm going to delete (like I'm doing right now). It makes twice the work for me, which since I'm a basically lazy person, is not cool!

  4. I love the image of the chest-waxing muse.

    My muse is a bitch, too. She was very bitchy about being put on a schedule when I started doing the NaNoWriMo technique (which I swear by), but she does get to enjoy breaks between projects.

  5. I'm going to go get a Barbie and decapitate her just to put her in my writing area....okay, no I won't, but that's kick ass.

  6. You know, so long as the words are getting on the page, who cares? Ritual can be nice and all, but in the end, it's all about the word count and whatever gets it out of you - so long as it's vaguely legal and not suicidal...

  7. So much wisdom here on so many levels. I too love the chest waxing muse. I was wondering what mine was doing when locked in the bathroom. Now I know. I think, as Marcella said, "so long as the words are getting on the page, who cares?" Don't fix what ain't broken.

  8. Marcella is so wise. Love the caveat: vaguely legal and not suicidal!

  9. I enjoyed the humor. It helps with the frustration of being a distracted procrastinator, restless writer. It's hard when your day job is spent at a computer to then come home and sit and compute some more. I was most productive when I won a mentorship and part of that was getting a writing studio for 3 months. Plus I had a very old used laptop with no access to the internet. Huge help! I like your idea of having a Netbook and then turning off the internet. Great advice about working with your "nature". I can't relate to much of what writer's advise but your post is a big help. Thanks.