Thursday, February 11, 2021

Staying Fresh


Last week I wrote about the convergence of my writing process with Joe Lansdale’s description of his before I even knew what his was. This week I’ll conclude those thoughts; great rejoicing may ensue.


We left off with how much more free time retirement provides, which doesn’t mean I spend all that time with fingers on keyboard. I try to write at least three times a day, in bursts of 45 minutes to an hour. Longer than that and my ego starts to intrude, and, as Milch says, the ego is the enemy of creativity. Set it aside, do anything else for a while, come back. Worries about this process being more indicative of sloth than art were put to rest in Joe’s post: “I try to write only about three hours a day. I stay fresh that way, and don't get so tuckered out that next day I do nothing.” Staying fresh is a big deal. I now look forward to the next session, rather than feeling as though I have to get it in out of a sense of duty.


Staying fresh is also forestalls burnout, as taking too many “maintenance” days can make it too easy to postpone writing altogether. Joe again: “I try to work five to seven days a week, and it takes something special to throw off that approach.” That’s exactly what I do. Paraphrasing Stephen King, “It’s true you do your best work when the Muse strikes. It’s helpful if the Muse knows when and where to look for you.”


All this cultivation of the subconscious is necessary and fruitful, but the subconscious is not the best arbiter of what’s good or we’d all get rich by transcribing dreams. Per Joe: “There's a lot of stuff there in the subconscious, and the disorganized materials have to be trained to line up, and this is a primary duty of the conscious mind, which for me works best after the subconscious has sorted things, and has in fact done a lot of secret plotting. The conscious mind scrapes off the edges, jettisons the useless, the materials that will not work in your story.” In other, less entertaining words, editing.


Two other great writers’ ideas come to mind:

Hemingway: Write drunk. Edit sober.

Milch: There are no mistakes, only things that need to be better.

How I think of it: The subconscious can create a baby but only the conscious can properly prepare the little bastard to go out into the world.


I could go on, but I won’t. As the philosopher Harry Callahan said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” Writing is not hard; it’s difficult. It’s not ditch digging, but it’s also not for the faint of heart. Understanding what we’re doing won’t necessarily make us better, but it will prevent us spending our free time learning to tie nooses and looking for open beams. If you have to take your medicine, it might as well come from someone like Joe Lansdale, who can make it go down so much easier.


(Thanks to Joe for allowing me to quote him in these posts.)

1 comment:

Elgin Bleecker said...

Writing in bursts is an interesting idea.