I think perhaps the hardest thing about writing is to get into and stay in the right frame of mind for writing for an extended period. I can’t be too relaxed or too amped. If I’m tired, like when I first wake up, I can’t think at all. Have to have some coffee. But too much coffee, and my mind is all over the place. Some exercise sometimes helps clear the head sometimes, but I can also use it as a distraction so the only thoughts entering my head are about how many calories I’m burning and not about the story I’m working on. Anything can be a distraction. Staring at a computer screen rarely helps, and often is also a distraction. Sometimes, I have to print out what I’m working on and take to it with a pen. Or I just grab a notebook and get some thoughts down that way.
For a lot of writers, the ritual is very important–sitting down at a certain time every day with things arranged just so, distractions put to the side. My schedule seems to be too unpredictable to ever settle down into such a routine. Between paid work, grad school, the Birmingham Free Press, Steel Toe Review, Ghost Herd, and a relationship, my to-do list is a constantly shifting jigsaw puzzle. One might suggest dropping one or two of these activities to create more time, but they are all intertwined like a pit of anacondas in heat. Each project supports the others in some way or another, either financially or by facilitating connections with other creative people that can help me or inspire me. Also, if I can’t seem to finish that short story, maybe I can write an exposé about the Shepherd Bend coal mine, and at least then I’ve written something that day.
I’ve been known to go on long walks, sometimes for an entire day, with just a notebook and a pen, circling through sentences in my head, occasionally sitting down somewhere to scribble out my notes. Then I’ll come home and type everything up later, editing as I go. This is, in fact, my preferred way to work, but often, the weather, or my non-literary responsibilities, prevent me from going on these expeditions. It’s rare that I have a day, or even a couple of hours, that I can spend that way.
I’m trying to flesh out a short story right now, but I’m writing this blog post instead. Sometimes, I have to work on two things at once. Write a couple of sentences on one topic and then go back to the other project, because I can’t stop my brain from jumping around from one to the other anyway.
So I don’t know what to do exactly to improve this situation. It will definitely be one of my goals in 2012 to be more organized about this process. It’s also one of my goals to do more walking.