It is 6am and I surface like a submarine from the dark of sleep because I had an idea for a Writing Blunder essay (about writing advice, for and against), and I don’t want to lose it the way I lost two other ideas recently by choosing to stay submerged when the ideas showed up on sonar.
I did get one of those lost ideas back, and wrote a 1200-word piece last night, but it came out poorly, not at all well. Misshapen, asymmetrical, a funny pot standing there on the potter’s wheel. Nothing for it but to run the wire under it and start over. I have no idea where that second idea went.
The idea I got back was titled “Lucky Undies”, and was about the Blunder of getting caught up in the idea of not being able to write unless everything in your work environment is just exactly so. I got caught in this sort of thinking early in my “professional career”, and I had this coffee mug that I couldn’t bring myself to wash because I had been using it when I received news of my first book sale. It was bad and disgusting–but mostly it was a sign of the mental illness I live with. It was magical thinking. It was a Writing Blunder.
Because the truth is, as far as I’ve been able to determine after all these years (it’s 20 years since I sold ORBITAL BURN), you can write anywhere, in pretty much any conditions. This is something I’ve had to learn. It’s true that a quiet, peaceful environment is ideal. Your home, a library, a quiet cafe, are all good. But I’ve had equally good results in very noisy, busy, crowded cafes. The thing I need to have in order is not the outside world at all: it’s my inside world. I’ve had quite an ordeal these past few years, and especially this past year (see my recent memoir posts). For a while last year I lost contact with the creative part of my brain. I did not know if I’d ever write another word. As it has come back, as my mind has come back into focus, I have found that I can write perfectly well on my iPad, using the onscreen keyboard and two quick fingers (sometimes just one careful finger if my dog wants an inconvenient cuddle), sitting on the couch, in bed, out in cafes, anywhere at all I might be. The iPad is portable. I don’t need Lucky Undies that I don’t wash until the book is done, or a Magic Coffee Mug that I likewise don’t wash until the book’s done.
(The only thing I would add here on further reflection is that I do still sometimes have problems with certain sorts of sound, usually very small, quiet sounds, but not always. It’s called misophonia, and is something I discovered I had last year in the course of the medication change ordeal. It means that tiny noises can trigger involuntary fight/flight responses, and have done. I was at a cafe on Monday. It was lovely. Quiet, peaceful, excellent food, I was writing, it was all good. But a woman sitting on a metal stool nearby was wearing boots with a metal buckle. She jiggled her foot in such a way that the buckle would hit the metal of the stool, ding-ding-ding-ding, etc. I just about had to step outside for a while.
For some people, finding an environment they can work in is a profoundly difficult problem. I did not mean to suggest, in my 6am glibness, that it could be so easily accomplished.)
All I need is a willingness to surface from the dark at inconvenient hours, when I’d much rather be asleep, thanks, to make sure I don’t lose the fleeting thoughts that show up on sonar.