“What are you writing habits?”
A seemingly innocuous go-to icebreaker I’ve both endured and implemented in writing classes is anything but. I would guess that it’s usually well-intentioned. I would guess that it is meant merely to bring writers together through both similarities and idiosyncrasies. Yet, I’ve noticed that sometimes, this question elicits weird competition.
“I only write in coffee shops.”
“I only write in this coffee shop.”
“I only write in this coffee shop at this time on this table drinking this specific latte.”
Prepositions get a little turned around on that last one (is she literally sitting on the table with an inkwell and handmade paper?), but you get the point.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have a spiritual need to be in a particular place or be eating my favorite cookie or listening to a very specific rendition of Handel’s Messiah (though, on second thought, that would be pretty awesome writing music, don’t you think?).
In this post, I’ll be talking honestly about a few writing habits that I do feel a bit ashamed to have (except for food habits, because that needs to be its own post, trust me). For a while, these habits made me feel like a failure at this whole writer lifestyle thing. But the more I got to know other writers, the more I realized that they have habits that they aren’t too proud of, either, and that made me feel better. I imagine it’s sort of like when you run into a stranger in a public restroom who is also blotting the sweat off her cleavage. (Boob sweat solidarity. It’s a thing.)
Generally, I write on my couch. No, wait, I take that back. I also write in my office/closet (my desk shares space with clothes and shoes in our walk-in closet, but at least there’s a window). In coffee shops, I tend to edit and read and research random facts, like the average lifespan of a kangaroo. (It’s six in the wild and twenty in captivity, in case you were wondering.)
Once, I wrote on the airplane on the way to a conference. I’m still not sure if I legitimately procrastinated or if I wanted to see what it was like to be one of those academics who wrote conference papers on the plane.
This set-up isn’t healthy for my back, or my neck, but I do often write in bed. It’s quite comfy, and great for quick naps. Or long naps. I have a nap problem.
Keyboard or paper? I don’t usually write by hand unless I’m really confused about something, and even then I leave handwriting to mind-mapping and outlining, but mostly doodling. For years, I’ve lugged around a typewriter that I bought for $6 at a Goodwill in Tennessee, but I’ve only used it twice, maybe, and to be honest I only keep it because it feels like a physical manifestation of what I’m trying to do with my life (and also because it’s a beautiful shade of Robbins’ egg blue). But mostly because it makes me feel hip, or something.
Does anyone else write prolifically when they’re procrastinating on important life things? I can easily pump out a good 1500 words when I really don’t want to take the trash out. Understandably, then, each of my writing “sessions,” if we want to make them all official-sounding, results in varying word counts very much related to the length of my task list.
When I really want to “get stuff done,” I put on clothes. I’m not saying that I write naked (or do I?), but I do tend to lounge around at home in sweatpants or basketball shorts and t-shirts. We all know that the home is where the bra is off. But when I really need to pump out an essay I’ve been thinking about for a long time, or I need to write a very important document, or I just want to feel professional for once, I’ll put on pants with buttons!
I often don’t listen to anything when I’m writing. I still put in ear buds so that I have the quick option of playing something if I feel like it and so that I can drown out any environment noise. When I do decide to spice up my aural space (say that five times fast!), I go to one of three genres: hip hop, soundscapes, bluegrass. When I’m feeling mopey I’ll listen to indie crap, but I don’t usually get much writing done when I’m feeling mopey, so.
And then there’s the weird. When I’m super into what I’m writing, I often make hand gestures, which I guess might be part of the reason I don’t like to write new content in public. I see writing as part of my body, like dance. I’m no dancer, but I often see music as choreography in my head, and I see writing the same way. Writing to me is extremely visual. Sometimes when I’m listening to music, I’ll have to mute it until I can find the droid I’m looking for. My hands start to move like I imagine the word, well, moves.
For example, take the word “slide” in verb form. Now, imagine you can’t think of the word. You know it has something to do with moving quickly, slickly. That’s when my hands start to make the movement, like a sled going downhill. Sometimes I’ll even have the first letter on my tongue and, if I’m feeling really frustrated, the sound escapes my lips and I find myself blubbering and moving the way my dog blubbers and moves when he’s begging for a treat. (Corgis don’t “shake” well—they end up hopping on one foot and barking like seals.)
As a writer, I’m beginning to adjust my own expectations. I have chronic anxiety (which I’ll discuss in a later post!), so it’s no surprise that I have anxiety about my writing habits, which stems from a fear of being an imposter. But just because I don’t compose at six am every morning while listening to Nicki Minaj doesn’t mean I’m an imposter. Just because I listen to Nicki Minaj doesn’t mean I’m an imposter, either. Maybe there’s something to this wacky organic tornado that is my writing process. Maybe that’s my creative home, a safe space to parse out thoughts in the midst of chaos, cohesion in fragmentation.
I think we all have that fear of failure when we start a new journey. For writers, we’re beginning a new one each time we sit down to write. I think we can choose to see this as a curse of the trade, or we can embrace the ability to try again. And whether it’s through drastic editing and revising of Transformer proportions, or simply starting with a blank page, we will try again, because we can’t help ourselves. I think that is what makes a writer a writer—not fancy computer programs or very serious notebooks, not even MFA programs—it’s the draw to try again, and again, and again.