Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Skiing Off a Cliff

There’s one thing to be said for skiing off a cliff or being broadsided by a truck. Apart from giving you a new appreciation of how quickly life can go spinning out of control, it definitely tends to shift your perspective.

I was ruminating on those life experiences Monday as I was flying down the interstate at 85mph (hey, this is Louisiana). And because I’m a writer—which means I’m always seeing analogies even where there aren’t any—I thought it might hold the key to why I manage to get so much written when I’m up at the lake.

There are all sorts of prosaic reasons, of course. No internet. No piles of laundry and dirty refrigerators beckoning to be cleaned out. The freedom to listen to my inner body clock, which means scribbling away until 4 am and sleeping guilt-free to 10 or 11. And then there’s the blessed sound of silence, and the soul-lifting inspiration that comes from the sight of sun glistening on breeze-licked waves.

Those are all, obviously, contributing factors. But I suspect a major key to my uncharacteristic prolificacy up there is that going to the lake yanks me out of my routine everyday patterns. It shakes me up, breaks my habits, sets me free to be different. Cocooned alone in the lake house, I can immerse myself in my story and then simply let it flow out of me. When I want a break, I go walk around the lake or grab a paintbrush. But the story stays with me. In me. My world becomes the lake and my story.

I have a friend who has written all twenty of her books in longhand while sitting in a coffee shop. The other day I told her I thought maybe she had something there, that I’d noticed I’m actually far more productive when I’m up at the lake and writing by hand. You know what she said? “Really? I’ve just started composing at my computer because it seems faster.” Of course it is, theoretically, since one eliminates the step of having to type up what one has written. It’s why I shifted to composing at the keyboard years ago. But I suspect she’s feeling a burst in her productivity largely because her process is now different.

I can still remember the heady days of the first book I ever wrote, scribbling by hand, dashing after my story with no outline and little forethought. Over the years—I’ve been at this twenty years now!—I’ve learned how to do so many things so much better. But in the process something was lost. Something I recapture—at least partially—sitting on that porch swing with a notebook propped on my lap.

So here’s to being shaken up—preferably in a nonlethal way. If you normally compose at your computer desk, go sit out under a tree and write by hand. If you outline, ditch it for a day. If you don’t outline, try it. Light candles and play Gregorian chants. Or douse the candles and turn off the CD player. Get up at 5 am and write while you watch the sun come up. Or write by moonlight in the stillness of the night. Why wait to be clobbered by a hurricane to try something different?


Steve Malley said...

I really liked that post. Shaking up the methods sure does seems to jog those blockages loose...

Chap O'Keefe said...

Good post. "Change is as good as a holiday" works for sure, even on the lowliest levels.

A switch of computers the other day meant I couldn't use the typeface I favor -- Courier -- until a technology-savvy son had fixed the set-up for me. (As an aside, don't believe those horror stories from people who say you can't use WordPerfect programs satisfactorily with Vista!) I thought the change of typeface to a default one that was sans serif and bolder would throw me completely. Cost a day's work, in fact. In the event it did nothing of the sort. The effect was surprisingly the reverse.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great advice. I've found something like this works for me as well, although not the writing long hand part. The breaking of routine. Even my trip to Arkansas to see about my mom, stressful as it was, energized my writing once I returned.