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Published on March 6th, 2014


Weird Things Writers Do

Every morning , I wake up at around seven a.m.

Before I start my day of writing, or my half day, depending on the day’s demands, I find a quiet place, get in a cross-legged sitting position, and I try not to think for ten minutes.

You can call this meditation, but I just call it quiet time, time to not use my thoughts.

This is hard for me to do, a discipline I would say, because thoughts are like birds: They fly all over your interior landscape, and you ignore most but cannot help but notice others.

Sometimes you follow a bird from one place to another, from a tree to the roof of a house, and you create a new idea, a tree house.

I was walking along the beach the other day with a friend, and there were countless seagulls flying overhead, and they all looked alike, but suddenly my friend pointed at one and said, “That’s a nice seagull!”

Birds are thoughts, and we follow them all day, sometimes putting them into cages until they want nothing more than to be freed from us.

When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Danny, you think too much.”

So now, each morning, after ten minutes of NOT thinking, I feel refreshed, clear-minded, and I’m ready to start my writing day, which usually goes until about one pm, sometimes three pm, depending on the day.

But when I say “I write,” I don’t mean I’m pounding on the keys the entire time, although sometimes I do. Sometimes while “writing,” I  walk out the front door and roam the streets of my city without a destination, thinking of a writing problem I might be facing, or I might lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, imagining I see roads and highways and invisible cities.

Sometimes, during my “writing time” I’ll do something entirely new, like I’ll drive to a park I’ve never walked through or a nearby town I’ve never been to, and it helps me complete my work.

Try telling this to my working class family. It may be hard for them to understand that being a writer means you need time to do nothing, to think of nothing, or to think of everything, or to just sit down for hours watching people pass by.

Check out this article in Huffington Post about 18 Things Highly Creative People Do.

Among them are observing, people watching, engaging in new experiences, allowing solitude, and turning everything into a gift, even things that might seem “bad.”

I tend to have all of the habits listed, and I imagine people reading this post, other writers, have the same habits too.

That is, if you can afford to.

I’m acutely aware of the cultural privilege of working at a research institution, where publishing creative work is more important than my service.

I have time to write (read: dream) because I am expected to publish and am valued more by what I write than on which committees I serve.

I am a tenured professor in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas, El Paso.

The fact is, many writers don’t have the time I have to write, because they have more time-demanding jobs or they have new families, or both.

Yet I have a lot of brilliant writer friends who have 12 hour days or more, and I know that they have ways of practicing the normal habits of creative people.

You can be mindful changing a diaper, sanding a wooden chair, planting flowers or plucking out the weeds that want to strangle them.

I’m not sure how mindful you can be grading a pile of freshman compositions, a job I held for five years, but you get the point.

Writers will find ways to fit each one of these activities into their daily lives.

Writers not only need what the Mexican fiction writer Paco Taibo II calls “ass time,” sitting at your desk, but also we need wonder time.

I somewhat lament the idea that in few years waiting in line at the post office will be a thing of the past. Many writers and creative people first discovered mindfulness while waiting in line, or we began to suspect that we were different from others, because while people were impatiently waiting, grumbling, looking at their watches, checking their facebook status on smart phones, we were happy waiting in line.

It’s a great opportunity to watch people, to feel your legs and feet (should you be blessed enough to have them), to think about your characters. What would my protagonist Joey Molina think about while he waits in line at the Post Office?

Or it’s time NOT to think.

One time in line at the Post Office, the ending of a story I was working revealed itself to me. It had been there all along, but I needed a quiet mind to be able to see it.

At the risk of sounding like an overly romantic nut case, writers need to dream.

Flannery O’Connor once said that despair is the refusal to participate in any new experience.

You’ll rarely hear a writer say no to something new.

Jump out of an airplane? Sure.

I think a good way to measure how we live our lives is by how we read GOOD books.

If we’re tired of reading, waiting for a good book to end, counting how many pages we have before we can put the damn thing down, we probably live our lives that way. If we live our lives impatient to get somewhere, not enjoying the page on which we are living, there might be a problem.

Check out this article on Creative Habits, see how many of these characteristics you have.

To use a premise made popular by the redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

You might be a writer if:

You drop a glass of red wine on white tile, and it splatters and sparkles all over the place, and all you can think is, “How beautiful!”



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