Friday, December 28, 2007

Writer Impossible: Distractions

7:30 p.m. The writer sits at his desk after a long day at a company where he works 40 hours a week, in hopes that someday he will be able to quit just to write. So he's limited to time stolen after dinner. Tonight, he's determined to finish the short story for a lit mag.

But there's a rattling coming from the kitchen --a noisy fridge. So he goes to give it a kick, opens it and starts to rearrange bottles before stumbling onto a cold beer. He drinks the beer, and goes back to the computer to start in on the final draft of the story, when the cat begins to mew. The cat wants to be fed, and paces around the writer's legs. The writer picks up the cat, but not before getting swiped across the face. A direct hit, one claw across the cheek. He dumps the cat in the kitchen, goes into the bathroom and washes the cut, then comes back out to find the cat demanding to be fed. He opens a can of cat food, feeds the petulant beast, and staggers back to his computer. But now, he notices it's time to watch TV. Jack Bauer is going to save the valley from nuclear annihilation (again). So he watches his show and by the time it's done, his brain is onto other things. He cleans the kitchen, puts clothes into the dryer, and gets ready for bed. He feels hollow, wondering why he never gets anything done.

My friend Frank Schaeffer told me that he wakes up in the wee hours of the morning --4:30 a.m. when the house is quiet and he can just write. He likes the darkness outside and his lamp on his study as he plots out the next chapter (Frank has averaged a book a year). It's a ritual he started when his kids were young, and now that they're grown and away, he continues because it's become a routine.

Routine. That hated word. Yet without it we are left at the mercy of a world of distractions --from cats, to thinking we should be doing something else. Admittedly, art isn't practical, it doesn't pay the bills (for most of us) and there are always more pressing things that can be done. So it's easy to think other things are more important.

But what the writer didn't understand that what the story needs in order to be finished is something only he can do. No one else, because the story is a product of his experiences and imagination.

When I write and hit "the zone," I'm enjoying the practice of putting words onto a page that help me feel lighter and more alive. It's a chance to look deeper, to learn to discern what moves me, or doesn't. Often I find my initial perceptions were wrong, and I come to a different and gentler conclusion. I make choices over words and phrases, I'll play with contrasting images. What I experience is the joy of giving myself over to the process so that one day the end results --in this case words, will move others.

So go ahead. Leave the kitchen a bit dirty. Kick the kids off the computer. Unplug the phone. Don't fret over the laundry. Remember that Jack Bauer can be seen on reruns or DVD and that he will never ever learn a foreign language because he just uses a gun. Get up early and enjoy the morning hours. Even if it's for an hour a day, you've got to write. Distractions be damned. Life is full of them.

After all, only you can write your story. And there's nothing more important that seeing writing as a chance to deepen yourself so that you can grow and give.