Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing with Your Gluteus Maximus

     It's Monday. It's raining. I left the windows down in my car last night.  Does it get any better than this?

      What I really want to do is curl up in front of the fire with my dog, a comforter and a supremely scary book I started Friday and didn't have time to read over the weekend. I left the two main characters stranded in the desert with two creepy teens that I just know are going to turn out to be serial killers.

     Instead, I am writing. That's what I do. There are writers like Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates who I suspect are married to their computers, their output is so prodigious. I just know they arise every morning, a song in their hearts and the next chapter bursting from their fingertips.

    I am not one of those people.

    For one thing, I am not a morning person. I literally walk into walls until noon. Not a good trait if you are a teacher or a mother, and I am both. I am a night writer. My creative mind doesn't kick into gear until about three in the afternoon---about the same time I pick up my daughter from school, and my second job kicks in--mother to a high maintenance sixteen-year-old. (For those of you who are trying to write with toddlers at home, I hate to tell you this but writing-mothering never gets easier.) By midnight, my creative mind has turned to mush.  So, like it or not, I have become a daytime writer. My work day is 8 am to 3 pm, pretty much the same hours I taught.

   When I taught, I had a forty five minute drive to turn my brain on (listening to NPR helped a lot).  Now, I have to hit the ground running morning at 5:45, to get my daughter (also not a morning person) going. Fortunately I have a husband who can save the world by 9 am or no one would ever accomplish anything before noon.

   With them gone, my brain in neutral, I listen to a half hour of NPR (my mental jumper cables), take my cup of coffee, and plunk my gluteus maximus in front of the computer. (This is known as BIC---butt in chair.) My mind protesting all the way, I start writing. I promise myself to write for 15 minutes, even if I am only typing "I can't think. I want to go back to bed. I want to take the dog for a walk."

    A more disciplined person than I could probably do all those things, and still have a productive writing day. But I am a Master Procrastinator. Going back to bed will lead to reading in bed, which will lead to reading until the book is done....and so is my writing day. So it's BIC for fifteen minutes.

     Most days, in those fifteen minutes, my brain turns on and picks up where I left off yesterday. Or it comes up with something that has been percolating on the back burner for awhile. Before I know it, three or four hours are gone (that's as long as my fingers can work even on the best of days). Three or four hours are up, and now I can take the dog for a walk (where I will probably going on thinking, planning tomorrow's work.)

    Some days, however, are total duds. Fifteen minutes of BIC, and I still have nothing to show for it. I used to make myself stare at a blank computer screen for hours, waiting for the Muse to arrive. I don't know about you, but staring at a blank screen for hours will eventually lead to a "quick" game of solitaire or Boggle, to "stimulate" my brain. Who am I kidding? And of course, the longer I Boggle, the guiltier I feel about not writing....and well, the beat goes on. Eventually I had to accept that there are going to be days when fifteen minutes is all that is going to happen. Sometimes I write something really great in those fifteen minutes....and can't go any further. It's a relief to know I have fulfilled my personal commitment, even if it didn't have the results I want.

     As writers, I am sure you have at least three people a month ask you how they can "write their story."
(Or sometimes it's "how can I get my book published?" only to learn that "the book" has not been written.)

     "Here is the secret to writing," I say in a mysterious voice.  The would-be-writer leans toward me, ready to drink in my literary wisdom.

     "B-I-C," I say. Sometimes the other person actually writes this down. Mostly they blink and ask "Un- BIC? Like you use a Bic pen?"

     "No, it means Butt-in-Chair. Lots of Butt-in-Chair. You could write standing up; I hear Thomas Wolfe did. But most of us write better sitting. For long periods of time. Day after day."

     And now, having applied my gluteus maximus to couch for an hour and a half (there are variations), I will go wipe the rain off my car seats.

     Does it get any better than this?

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Carmela Martino said...

Mondays are especially tough for me, MA. Thanks for the reminder!

Kim Winters said...

Yep, I hear you, and I'm right there with you. It's a total mind game, this process. And, like it or not, sitting butt in chair is part of the job. I write at o'dark thirty these days. I am not a morning person. I drag myself out of bed anyway because I've learned the hard way that if I don't work on my own writing daily I get very crabby. I'm usually so tired and foggy those first few minutes after I sit at the keyboard that I barely make sense. But eventually I warm up, and suddenly, like you say, I look up and it's time to help my girls get ready for school.

Beth MacKinney said...

How true. This month has been a little on the grueling side. I feel like I'm playing king of the hill and everything is trying to drag me off my novel, but if you're alive, that's pretty much the way it is.

It is the month of Nike: Just do it.

Anonymous said...

A post that's huge fun & also TRUE.

I'm a writer but with the morning glory biorhythm instead of the night owl one. However, it also freezes the veins to stare at the empty white @ 6 a.m.

As for the teen-mothering years, wait I mean mothering- to- a- teen years, ours just began college this fall. I can't say enough about how every second of being distracted from research & writing in performance of unscheduled but highly crucial Mom duty pays off later in entry their into a new world, which may be a thousand miles from home, in a different climate, etc. etc.

Love this column.

April Halprin Wayland said...

A night owl? Yes! NPR? Yes! Do it anyway? Yes! Committing to a friend how much I'm going to write (or better: sending him the poem I wrote that day): priceless!