Thursday, March 27, 2008

Maybe This Cookie Will Help Me Write...

My previous post about the difficulty of filling the blank page reminds me of a conversation I once had with an agent about a certain superstar of the graphic novel world. The writer apparently told her that one of the biggest struggles he faced every day was forcing himself to sit down and work. Hearing that procrastination is a problem for someone of his caliber has been a great source of comfort to me over the years.

I’m one of those writers for whom settling down to work involves a lot of avoidance and no small amount of superstition. I liken it to a professional baseball player up at bat, with all the spitting, helmet-and-elbow-touching, dirt kicking and glove adjusting that needs to take place before he feels psychologically and physically comfortable enough to swing. In order for me to work, I need a glass of water and a comfortable room temperature. The house needs to be completely quiet. The weather can’t be too nice or I’ll want to be outside instead. I can’t be too tired or even a little sick. Then, if all these conditions are right, I have to check my e-mail, my favorite blogs, and do an online crossword. Then I might check the weather, and then my e-mail again. If no one has written to me or I haven’t received notice of a sale at one of my favorite stores, I’m good to go.

Once I begin writing, if I get stuck on a word, I find myself “write walking”--a phenomenon closely related to sleep walking, in which a writer gets up from her desk and suddenly finds herself standing before her open refrigerator with no recollection of how she ended up there. This occurrence is usually followed with an unhealthy snack and a wave of guilt, and can sometimes be repeated several times during the writing of a particularly difficult passage.

If writing is one of my great passions in life, why is it so hard to be disciplined? The best answer I can come up with is fear of failure. When I’ve written nothing, that nebulous masterpiece floating in my head retains all of its perfection; the moment I try to write I realize just how far my work is from my vision. Yet this should never be a deterrent, for it is extremely rare for a work to perfectly echo one’s vision. I wonder if artists in other mediums have the same problem with procrastination. I can certainly see songwriters having similar angst, but what about painters and sculptors or performance artists? Does fear of facing their limitations put them off, too?

Today, I might get down one good sentence if I’m lucky. Or maybe a particular word choice might sing. Or maybe it’ll all sound stiff and boring. So be it. Tomorrow I’ll sit down at my desk, with my water and silence and optimal room temperature, check my e-mail and play my word puzzles. And when all is right I’ll settle down to work and try again.

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