Timed creative writing

It is one thing being someone engaged with creative writing, like an author.

It is another being a banker or a factory supervisor and working x hours a day on the same old loans, the same old cars. The same old targets for so many billions in the credit portfolio and for so many wheels on the roads. The same old defaults because the interest rates are killing people’s ability to repay and the same old recalls because the faulty brakes are killing people. The same old pressure to work more, produce more to make up for the defaults and the recalls; stretch x hours to x+y hours.

Even a lawyer—with all the surprises that profession can throw up, if you believe John Grisham—is under insane pressure to work more, even if it is on the same old torts and contracts. Work more, bill more; stretch x to x+y+z hours.

Screw your family and your social life, our bottom line is more important.

As you can see any time in a courtroom, the lawyer actually has to be far more creative than the banker or the factory supervisor. Among other things, he is constantly spending time deciding which client to bill for today’s lunch at that expensive boutique restaurant, the hour spent eating it and the half hour spent on deciding which client to bill. He has to be as creative as the author, the artist or the musician.

The difference? Most authors, artists and musicians really do not know where their creative efforts are going to take them until they do get taken somewhere, like the NYT bestsellers list, the Museum of Modern Art or the Vienna Philharmonic. The lawyer is surer: his creativity is going to earn him a reputation, his reputation is going to increase the dollar value per hour in his bills, and the increased dollar value is going to buy him more expensive lunches. His creativity has back-up: he has senior partners at his firm to goad him… guide him and a team of paralegals and other support staff to lean on. He has case histories that give him a reasonable idea of how best to fictionalize the facts of his own cases. He doesn’t have to worry about bestseller lists, art galleries or orchestras. His bank account tells him everything he wants to know.

The author does not have that kind of back-up. Try getting Stephen King to guide you through your horror novel. Your support team? Your mother, if she can’t stop lying; your husband, if he can’t stop grumbling; and your children, if they can’t stop laughing. Case histories? You probably have some reason for hope there. You could try to draw inspiration from, say, The Shining or The Exorcist. Before that, you also want to research another type of case history, such as the cases of Alex Haley and James Frey.

missing muse

missing muse

Every author, I am sure, wishes creativity was a reservoir with a tap, to be drawn whenever required. You would not be compelled to sit at your workplace at dawn every day or whatever your chosen time is, fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting for the muse to turn up. Unfortunately, muses take the day off more often than you like.

If creativity is so whimsical, can you set it to a timetable? Does inspiration flood you with creative writing inputs every time you sit at your desk at the scheduled time?

I am not asking a rhetorical question. My experience tells me the answer is no. If the answer were yes, I would be writing three or four bestseller class novels every year. And that brings the next, more important question.

If you force yourself to write every day at your chosen time, no matter what, are you doing justice to your book and your readers? Are you writing the best you are capable of, or are you making do with almost?

I read all these posts about free writing, and I have tried it. The catch seems to be, you need your muse even for free writing. At least, that is the impression I have got so far. It all goes back to that old saw about nothing being really free. I do accept that maybe I am doing it wrong, because I still have not mastered the technique of creative writing with nothing on your mind to start with. Unlike the muse, the mind refuses to go AWOL.

However, I do intend to keep at it and see if I can work something out.

Just want to set something straight here. I am not denying the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it. I have and I do. But I find that I function fine when I don’t let a missing muse mess with my mind. After a spell of fidgeting in vain, I do other things. There is always a backlog of things to do: research your next chapter or your next blog post, read some of the dozens of “how to…” and “7 best…” web pages you have bookmarked or downloaded to Evernote or test some of the new tools you have been wanting to try out.

Invariably, some time when you are least expecting it, s you are back on track. You are never sure when that will happen, though. And when it does happen, you are never sure how it happened.

Regimented creativity does not work the way you would like it to. Your clock and your muse will never be in permanent sync, and you can resolve that issue if you are more attuned to your muse than to your clock.

I get the feeling people’s muses delight in visiting them when they are not quite prepared. I get my best ideas when I am out on my evening walk; unfortunately, my efforts to somehow make a notebook and pen permanent parts of my anatomy have not worked so far.

I also recently read about this glass-of-water technique. It works like this: if you are struggling with a recalcitrant muse, you fill a glass of water before going to bed in the night, speak your intention for the morrow into it (“I intend to write a Pulitzer material novel at warp speed as soon as I rise in the morning”). Drink about half of the water before hitting the sack and drink the rest as soon as you get up in the morning. Go straight to your computer, fire it up and start working the keyboard.

If things do not work out on the first morning, keep at it for another two or three days. Seems like the glass-of-water technique sometimes needs more than a one-night stand to get acquainted with your muse.

The next time my muse skips out on me, I may try the glass-of-water thing. If water does not work, I will see if something stronger is more attractive to my muse. If a glassful does not work, I will try the whole freaking bottle.

How about you? Would you agree that some flexibility in your daily schedule keeps your mind in more consistent working trim—even if it is not creative writing trim—especially when your muse is nursing a hangover? Let us know in the comments.

  • Charles Ray

    The advantage of having retired from my normal day job and being able to devote full time to writing, I can meet my 1,000 – 2,000 words a day quota without having to stick to an iron-clad schedule. Being able to walk away from the computer and walk in the forest taking pictures helps keep my mind fresh.

    • venkyiyer58

      You are lucky. And you exemplify what I talk about: if you can’t beat it, walk away from it.

Timed creative writing

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 5 min