All right, class. Now, we’ve previously discussed writing triggers, and I had no intentions of following up the subject until I tried something out today and was delighted to find it entirely workable. So we shall follow a little further on the subject. Does everyone have a good cup of tea? Yes? Strawberry Slender Pur-eh, myself. A big pot of it.
In the post mentioned above, as well as other ones, I talked about becoming aware of your state of mind, not only during the actual writing process but during the rest of the course of your day. In “Writing Triggers,” the key point I discussed was being aware of the things which affect you, and then using them to good effect. It was being able to recognize that, Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Lee Hooker were playing the sort of music that really fired me up and sent me off writing lots, that reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Gene Wolfe, and so on were good things for my state of mind. Triggers, like we discussed.
In another post, “Silence, Patience, Grace,” I looked into the workings of my own brain and, once I had finished throwing up a little, the important point I realized was that my brain runs all the time, forever ticking and ticking as fast as it can go about anything which crosses its path. I discussed the realization that I need to slow down, to calm myself, to focus better. And it was true, and I worked very hard at it for a good week or so, which is usually how long my conscious attention span holds me onto any given topic (unless it’s writing, friends, tea, or deep sea marine biology). I discussed how I stopped listening to loud music and listened only to my local classical station, because it was calming and it required no influence or control on my part. How I settled, in essence, was what I talked about.
The most important thing which came out of that blog post and the following thought and work on my own brain was not so much a major personality shift — would that I could pull those off voluntarily — but was rather, my own ability to consciously spot the times when I was going too fast and frazzled, and also the times when I was going too slow and tired, too exhausted to even want to write the character crossing the room and lighting a cigarette simply because it was too many words and too much work. I recognized those states of mind, and that became important.
Consciously, I was aware that for the past week or so, I was not writing 8,000 words a day, a workload which I can feel okay about and feel like I’ve accomplished something, although frankly, I would like to be doing at least another two thousand, if not more. (Let’s be honest: I want to write in a state of joyous bliss until I have worn my fingers down to the bone and only then will I stop writing, but only so long as it takes me to figure out how to manage it with my toes. Some people write for money. I write because I love an audience, and I ****ing love writing.)
There were reasons. I was sick. It was the holidays. But the interesting thing was that I was consciously aware of the state of my mind changing. Reverting, in a way, back into the scatter-fire frazzle state which has unfortunately taken over too much of my time. During my delightful week of 8,000 words a day, I spent most of the intervening time between writing sessions in a hazy state, mostly just lost in my storeys. I spoke quietly, I was forgetful, I didn’t care what was happening around me. In short, it was the state of mind I used to occupy, something which I spoke in sort-of detail in yet another blog post, “Post Mortem – A dissertation on Reversion,” The state of mind, when I was younger, that would let me sit on a bus for hours with nothing to read or write, and just stare out the window and think stories and write stories and build stories, all in my head, without problem.
So: I was consciously aware of the change – of the shift between quiet and focused, and large and fast and frazzled and decidedly unfocused. There was nothing to be done about it, not least because I was sick and it felt like someone had taken my head and filled it up with glue and, at night, with needles and kerosene and lit matches. Writing is a far distant desire when mostly, all you want is some more medicine, please. Writing is that frustrating thing you desperately want to do, if only you had your words about you, which I didn’t. Maddening.
Anyway, the change was noticed. Yesterday, frazzled and confused and hyper, I only wrote 3,000 words. I know. What am I complaining about? Some writers don’t do 3,000 words in a week. In the case of myself, I really do need to be doing more than that, or it doesn’t feel right.
Because I was consciously aware of the change of mood and focus, I noticed things: My mood oscillated wildly. I was happy and amiable in the morning, in a black mood in the afternoon, friendly enough in the evening. And because I was noticing this and thinking about it, I realized that this was fairly common.
I get unfocused, I start puttering around the internet without thinking. I also notice that I tend to listen to a lot of catchier songs that I like. For example, there were people like the Foo Fighters in my day and my current guilty pleasure, a band called “Paramore,” who is probably emo, except that I think the whole “emo” thing is just about dead (maybe they’ll kill themselves?) and they’ll turn out to be a real honest-to-god rock band.
The music change is indicative of the mindset change, you see? There was no classical music, no pretty music of any sor, and why is that? Because I didn’t want to listen to it, so I didn’t. I wandered blogs and the writers’ forums, and even YouTube, that bastion of culture (although I went cultured and watched Monty Python).
So today, it was triggers that I was thinking about. Let me spell out my morning so far and then go into further detail. Please bear with me, just a little bit longer: I woke up pretty tired, because I stayed up late last night to write (which I failed to do, I instead stayed up and held a screaming baby). My playlist this morning consists of “The Inner Light” orchestrated suite from the greatest Star Trek episode ever written, and the song “Angel,” by Sarah McLachlan, one of my favorites, as well as a couple of cello pieces by Yo-Yo Ma, another favorite. There is also Beethoven’s complete 9th, although in the final parts, that’s almost impossible to write to, so it may go away again. My reading this morning is a new book which I just purchased last night, and which I have been waiting to read, “Spooky Country,” by William Gibson, one of the finest minds of our time.
I am calm. I am quiet. I am writing.
First, being tired automatically helps. I run mentally slower when I’m tired, although just by nature, I don’t stay tired and slow very long. It is my nature to speed up and be away like a frazzled bullet.
Second, I had already been thinking about triggers, and planning to use ’em.
Third, my music. There is no rock music in my day today. Why not? Well, because as much as I adore listening to Ronnie James Dio (especially with Sabbath) and the Foo Fighters and Nightwish and all sorts of bands, they fire me up, and that is not good today. Today, there are quiet songs, pieces of music that inspire emotion. (Angel is a quiet song, the audio equivalent of sitting in a dark room on News Years’ Eve alone and nevertheless thinking happy thoughts; The Inner Light reminds me of Star Trek, and love, and community, and story, and all manner of things).
Fourth is the book, and that is the most interesting and untested point so far. During the week when I turned out eight thousand words a day, I was also finishing books. I read and finished three books that week, which was certainly up three books from the previous week. After that, I got bogged down and stuck reading “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which is a good book, but is neither an easy or relaxing read. I got stuck on it, you see? And so when I was tired, or slow, or distracted, I reached for the old stand-bys, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and so on, those whom I have read so many times that there is no mental thought going on, and it is the reading equivalent of staring open-mouthed at the TV (not because of a lack of quality, but because I know the books already. There is no reading and comprehending. There are just reminders of having read this already.) So: reading Bill Gibson’s newest book is smooth and fun and easy, and it’s most importantly new. It shakes things up. It gets me going and reading again.
I previously talked about being aware of your triggers. Now, I am talking about manipulating your triggers. They change day by day. There are days when I turn out 8,000 words listening to rock music, while cleaning the kitchen and taking care of a baby without problem.
But the important step was recognizing that today was not that day. Today, I need the quiet, the calm, the emotion, and the story. Personally, I believe more and more that I need those things all the time (as discussed in Silence, Patience, Grace) but much to my occasional ire, I have no idea how to make myself perpetually calm, still, silent.
So, that is what has been accomplished today: recognize what state you are in, on any given day, if you are the sort of person who is inclined toward states. Figure out what causes that state. Moreover, figure out if that state is a good one to work in, or if you need to be in a different frame of mind. Also, figure out what causes that frame of mind. It’s like learning how to drive a stick shift, in some ways, in that you have to get it all figured out and coordinated properly.
I am calm, I am quiet. My thoughts are flowing smoothly and coming to conclusions. I am writing this, writing fiction, I am reading. I am tottering on the brink of no black mood at all, nor am I manically depressed about the state of my novel, nor what novel I will write next. I am quietly thinking about what will come next, and that is all. The triggers worked properly today. Tomorrow will be a new battle, of course, and there is always a pretty good chance I’ll lose. But we’ll see.
There we go. Class dismissed. More tea, anyone?