I could've just as easily titled this post shovelling the driveway or raking the leaves because today I'm going to talk about repetitive drudgery.
And believe it or not, I won't be talking about copy edits, because I covered them last week.
The thinking process in writing is as equally important as the writing process--hands on the keyboard, butt in chair, and all of that.
I find that doing repetitive tasks is the key to unlocking the ponderer in my brain. That's the little troll who lives in my skull, who weaves magic phrases and whispers nasty delights that become fodder for my fiction. I won't call him my muse because that term sounds too whimsical for the ponderer.
My troll is a contemptuous (insert expletive here) who knows how to push my buttons. But I need him, so I allow him free reign.
He's also a bit of a prima donna, so he must be handled with kid gloves.
Hence the lawn mowing.
Whenever I perform a repetitive task, my brain is allowed the liberty to bask in the zen of the repetition. It's one of the few times I'm not so overwhelmed by other thoughts that I can singularly focus on not focussing and the pondering begins.
When I'm aware of the thought process, I first remember where I last left my characters and listen to:
- what they might say to themselves or others
- who they might turn to
- what they might do next
- which feelings might willingly (or unwillingly) erupt
The really cool moments happen when I'm not even aware of my thought process. After I've shovelled the driveway (and had a shower and some hot chocolate) I will sit down at my computer and bam! Suddenly I am absolutely sure of what to write next.
The troll did all the hard work. All I have to do is write his ideas down.
Sometimes the troll and I work together. These moments of cooperation are more likely to happen when I'm performing a task that is slightly less monotonous, but often something I do every day like showering, doing the dishes, or driving my car.
So the next time you stare out the window and realize just how desperately long your grass is, and that the neighbours are going to squeal on you to the municipality soon, don't despair. Don't procrastinate. Rush out there and mow your lawn!
Your neighbours will thank you. Your spouse will thank you (or release you from the dog house). And best of all, the next time you write, you'll be more productive.
Don't have a lawn to mow, or leaves to rake, or a driveway to shovel?
Do the dishes, clean your bathroom, vacuum the carpet, brush the cat (or tape bacon to it, because I heard that worked for John Scalzi).
Give your ponderer the chance to be brilliant. You can thank him later.
Do it now
Read the last few pages of your current work-in-progress, then mow the lawn. (Or do the dishes, or whatever.)
After your repetitive task, sit down and write. Even if it's only for five minutes. You might be surprisingly productive.