Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Harness your compulsion.

When people comment on my efficiency, I say, "It's just laziness that I make look good."
When they speak about my structured life, I say, "Habit is just disciplined compulsion."

I don't know whether I made either of those up, or if they came out of some German fortune cookie, but to illustrate the compulsiveness of compulsion... I'll tell this story. 

15 years ago when I quit working, and tried one last ditch at earning anything by writing, I went through every little notebook and scrap-store device you think all writers have and pulled out whatever was left there to try to kick-start the juice.  In 1996, the best one could hope for was a column in the local rag, which were already starting to be taken over by Community News.  Self-publishing was expensive, unless you wanted to stand outside the BPL, and it is awfully windy there.

My problem is that I was trained (and let's put that in quotes) in 2 styles - the self-reflective (read: indulgent) novel and the critical essay.  I was so far ahead of my time....

What kept me from writing often was how long it took to do it, and how much I had overdone it in the years leading up to then.  I went back to the fundamentals you learn as a teenaged novelist who subscribes to Writer's Digest and tries everything Lawrence Block recommends -- not because you would ever read what he writes, but because he has published 70 books,  and you have published zero. 

He might advise that Miss Bender tends to write too long an intro.  He has no idea what I throw away.

There are all kinds of writing prompt exercises to get you started.  Writing is writing.  That's the trick.  Get something down.  One of our instructors at the Valley Union Seminary for Bookish Ladies enjoyed giving a phrase to start and a phrase to end, and made us find 3 pages in between.  "And make it take palce in Port-au-Prince," he would toss over his shoulder as he left us there in a circle.

I took these idea snippets I found among the ruins of my artistic life and I wrote them onto strips of paper, which I folded very small, as tightly as I could so they all looked alike, and tossed them into a gift box whose origin I no longer recall, but it says "Lenox" on it and is a pleasing shade of green.

I did nothing with that box.
I did crank out a few stories in the 6 months I was out of work.  Nothing came of them.  Root cause - mine.

You've been following this spot for some time now.  You might have expected I would run out of ideas, or begin to repeat myself.  I don't change very much, and I only have a few channels.  It's been kind of a struggle this year to believe that the world needs any more content.

But the other night, while chasing the mice across the ceiling, which chase included a ladder to the crawl space above the guest room, and moving things from the closet shelf, I found the little green Lenox box.

I knew what it was immediately -- this isn't a mind that forgets what things are or where she put them.  I put it there.  When I moved in 7 years ago.  So why not give it a shot.  What else have you got going on?

There must be rules, of course.  Why go through life blithely stepping on cracks?  I did not require that something must be written every day.  (Or any day.)  Or that ideas had to come out of the box.  If I had an idea on my own, well Glory Be.  I should go ahead and explore it, but if there was a  need of an idea... a need to go to the box....

The rule is, though, if you draw from the box, you must write what you drew.  No knives out of scabbards without drawing blood. No throwing it back, or away.  And since the papers contain complete nonsense to me after 15 years, it might take days to get an essay out of one.

Or, I might just draw this:  "Habit is just disciplined compulsion."


  1. Interesting. Are we doppelgangers? Reading your blog helped inspire me to start mine, but so far the only essay I have managed is the first post. I look forward to seeing what comes out of your Lenox box, and shall consider finding one of my own. good luck.

  2. I have always envied your ability to shape words into meaningful paragraphs. You see things around you that many of us miss or are unable to adequately describe. That is why I am a reader, not a writer and I greatly appreciate the writers, even the ones I find difficult to read. Do keep on expressing what your readers find so enjoyable and educational on so many levels. M


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