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How? How? How do you write?
In the morning, or at night?

Do you like to write with a pen?
In your study? In the den?

Oh, you use a computer and a mouse.
Where? In a coffee shop or at your house?

Do you stand and write like Ernie Hemingway?
Or do you sit on your overworked butt all day?

On a wooden floor with a woven rug?
Say! Does it help to take a drug?

How? How? How do you write?

Please answer and I promise—I promise—I promise not to grovel.
But I need your help, you see. For I’m getting nowhere on my novel.


O.K., so I’m not a poet. I have always been intrigued, though, by the process of creativity. When I show someone a story that I have written, a typical response is, “Don’t quit your day job.” (Fair enough.) But another is, “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

The answer (to the second question) is, of course, “I don’t really know.” The stories that emerge are the result of a complex melange of experiences, dreams, perceptions, encounters, conversations, chocolate, smells, noises, textures, memories, emotions, maps, hopes, the spin of a bicycle tire, ambitions, offhand glances, wisps of smoke, the stories I read, suppressed desires, music, cloth, earth, dust, visions, repressions, bacon, ink on paper, grievances, loves, fresh-cut grass, TV dinners, and everything else I’ve ever seen, smelled, heard, known, felt, or imagined.

We all have millions of conscious, subconscious, and unconscious bits inside of us—all stewing together on a low boil.

Creativity can be an elusive creature. We all have millions of conscious, subconscious, and unconscious bits inside of us—all stewing together on a low boil. From time to time, seemingly random and previously unconnected ingredients combine with each other and bubble up together to the surface. Sometimes it just happens. Other times, you have to stir the pot. But either way, what you ladle out is an idea. It might just be a piece of dialog. An opening line. The curve of a smile. A color of light. The fall of a leaf. A hint. An aspect. Other times, it’s the whole story, beginning to end.

Each writer has to learn not only the craft of writing, but also the process of being a writer. Do you write as soon as you get up in the morning, before your brain has a chance to analyze what you're writing? Late at night, when it's too tired to filter out your subconscious? I was thinking about this the other day when I stumbled across the Oristand stand up desk. Sitting is the new sugar (so they say), so I am contemplating making the $25+shipping investment to Hemingway-ize at least part of my writing day. For health, not creativity. Still, it sparked the question.

What do you do to maximize the precious moments you can steal away to actually write? I like to walk. And garden. Be outside. But those are head-clearing activities, not actual productive writing sessions. When I write, I listen to music. The same music. Over and over. I have writing playlists—some with a few songs, some with only one. I have tried to identify similarities in the music that works for me, but the styles run the gamut from jazz (Monk, Evans, Coltrane, Coleman–cats like that) to classical (Bach, Finzi, Rachmaninoff, and a bunch of other decomposing composers) to rap (2Pac, mostly—something about the flow) to pop and rock. Soundtracks work sometimes, but usually only if they are from films I haven't seen. (Or anything by Ennio Morricone.)

When I started on my first novel, the first song I listened to repeatedly was Sting’s “Soul Cages.” That was quickly surpassed by erstwhile jazz combo Metro’s “Rio Frio.” I listened to two of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” for two weeks straight. Did the same thing with a bunch of other music as well. I haven’t tried writing in a coffee shop, though I may give it a shot just to see how it goes. Mostly I stay at my desk with the blinds at 45 degrees and the music blasting. Most writers have other jobs that pay the bills, so it’s important to squeeze out as much production when the opportunity arises. Ray Bradbury said that if you are having writer's block, it's because you are doing the wrong thing. (Actually, he said, "Your subconscious is saying 'I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.') That is always a possibility. Or maybe you're just playing the wrong song.