I’ve gone back and forth on this.
One thing I can say is that when I achieve flow in a short story or longer-form fiction, the last thing I want to do is open another tab and start blogging about it. I don’t want to do anything other than stay in the flow.
But no one is in always in the flow. It’s not productive to try. Stay in the flow as long as it’s flowing, but understand that your subconscious needs a break. You’re not at peak creative performance all the time. You need downtime and sleep and the daily demands of life. That’s not glamorous, but it’s true.
Don’t write drunk and edit sober. Don’t forget about sleep. REM-cycles are essential for the next day’s writing, and for bridging the brilliance of yesterday’s flow with today’s and tomorrow’s.
There are times when you can’t work on The Thing In Itself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write at all. When the flow stops, shift gears. Dig out an old post and revise. Make it better. Re-share.
Read. Read short stories. Read books.
I’d suggest reading more than you blog, but if you have a family or a partner or a dog or a cat or a goldfish or parents or siblings or nieces or nephews or bosses or bills, you have commitments outside of yourself. Sometimes you can blog while doing other things (I do not mean driving). It’s much harder to read while your spouse watches Chopped. (You should also watch Chopped. It’s great.)
Blogging (or tweeting) does not mess up a writing life, but it needs to kept in perspective. Sometimes, it can help unlock the next round of creative flow.
That’s been my experience. What’s been yours?
A few weeks ago, I order ordered books from Powell’s.
When the box arrived on Monday, it weighed 14 pounds.
Saul Bellow, D.H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad top the list. Some things I’ve read before but had not previously owned, and other things that will be new to me.
Reading as a writer, that is, reading to uncover craft, is a much more pleasurable thing to me than what we sometimes mean when we self-consciously say we’re reading for pleasure.
A side note: My used copy of Sons and Lovers has a gift receipt from a Barnes & Noble in Costa Mesa, California from December 19, 2004 inside the cover and a remnant bit of Christmas paper still Scotch-taped to the back. It was processed into the Powell’s system last January. Where else has it been? How did the receipt and the wrapping paper stay connected to this edition for 14 years? Did someone unwrap it, like it, keep it, and then get rid of it last year? Or has it been in circulation longer? The mind already reels, and we haven’t even made it to the Table of Contents or the Timeline of the World of D.H. Lawrence.
I don’t know if that’s of any help to you this Black Friday, but I do recommend buying books.
“Every good writer or filmmaker has something eating at them, right? That they can’t quite get off their back. And so your job is to make your audience care about your obsessions.” – Bruce Springsteen
Not a bad way to think about it. Not the only way, but a very good one.
Today, around your Thanksgiving table, I hope you’re able to hear and share good stories. Meaningful stories. Stories of how it is and was with you and all your people.
John Steinbeck, from this piece in The Paris Review:
“A man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling.
The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.
A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel— “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” Of course a writer rearranges life, shortens time intervals, sharpens events, and devises beginnings, middles and ends. We do have curtains—in a day, morning, noon and night, in a man, birth, growth and death.
These are curtain rise and curtain fall, but the story goes on and nothing finishes.
To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.”
Make a Nerdy Living: How to Turn Your Passions Into Profit, with Advice from Nerds Around the Globe by Alex Langley scratches at least two itches.
One: It’s a motivator. If other people can do it, you can at the very least try harder than you probably are. The section on writing includes important, insightful reminders on the mechanics of creativity and flow. Langley’s funny, breezy style is endearing and accessible. It’s easy to see why he’s a successful web-writer.
I skipped the parts on how to make a buck cosplaying Firefly.
Which brings me to the second itch. Once you’re done with the parts you care about, you can give it as a gift to that relative who cosplays Firefly and voice-acts fan-produced short films. You love your brother-in-law, and this is right up his alley. Everybody wins.
Buy it here from an independent bookstore.
Using the links on this page to purchase this title help support local bookstores, and independent bloggers, in this case, me, who get a small commission. Like I said, everybody wins.
I think I first became familiar with the work of Stanley Fish in a literature seminar at Yale taught by the late Lana Schwebel. The course, which focused on the work of John Milton, was cross-listed at the Div School, where I was a student, and the English department.
One of the other students had just come from Chicago and could not stop talking about Stanley Fish. Strangely, this student didn’t seem at all familiar with Leo Strauss. He couldn’t seem to accept that someone had, perhaps, influenced his own academic hero.
Stanley Fish has a very popular piece I like to share from time to time called “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One.” I haven’t returned to it lately, but, as what Milton called the “winter wild” draws near, and this “the month, and this the happy morn” with it, I think I will add it to my short list of recommended re-reading.
There are few things more frustrating than a poetic image that won’t fully reveal itself to a writer, or one that reveals itself too easily to a reader. There’s a Milton-inspired poem sitting in another tab on my browser that I just can’t seem to finish. I love it. I hate it. It’s brilliant. It’s awful. Maybe it’s not a poem at all. I wish I could re-see it. I wish I could un-see (undo) the reasons it exists. I wish I could delete it. I know I never will. It’s terrible. It’s awful. It has one or two good images. It’s intensely personal. It’s too personal to mean anything to anyone. It’s too sentimental to mean very much to me. But there it sits. There it stays. Maybe it’s a poem. Maybe it’s an epitaph. Maybe it’s a tombstone. Maybe some things can just be what they are.
I was at a reception last night for an organization I care a lot about (I also serve on the Board). It was a great community event, and it reminded me, again, that no matter how good it is to be in the flow of the creative process, it’s also good to just be out in public. People often say, “it’s good to see you,” and sometimes we say back “it’s good to be seen.” That’s not just a cliche. It’s true. It is good to be seen. And it’s good to see.
Like everyone else, I balance a lot of demands. In some ways, I’ve been trying to slow my life down. It doesn’t always work.
Two people shared very kind, unsolicited thoughts about my writing and my life in general in the course of conversation. They know who they are, and I thank them here again.
As one of them might remind me, with respect to Leonard Cohen, don’t fret about your cracks. That’s how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in