People often ask me if I’m “disciplined” about the number of hours I spend writing, and what goes on in my day to produce my best and newest work. What they really want to know is if I have a creative routine. I answer by explaining that a lot of work takes place in my head first, and that happens anywhere, anytime. But, to put words down and organize them is a different challenge. I tell my questioners I’m a binge writer, so no specific number of hours or schedule committed to the craft is required. That’s the way I always like to work at anything—with inspiration until I drop; then rest and renew; then work again. That was my answer until my computer had a brain hemorrhage recently. Coming back to New York after two weeks away, eager and excited to get back to writing, my desktop’s incapacity brought something very interesting into full view for me, other than a nervous breakdown.
Thinking about what my first day home without a computer to work on would be like, I realized I would be in uncharted territory. I almost drowned in a tidal wave of anxiety. There was every possibility I wasn’t going to be able to write at all. Why? Because I need to sit in front of my big computer screen, my back straight, and angled slightly forward in my chair in the literary equivalent of an ‘athletic ready’ posture, lifting my hands to place my fingertips lightly on the ‘home keys’ (ASDF, JKL;), with thumbs barely touching the space bar. Then I take a deep breath and start to enter that other world; the one I’m going to write about. Describing it now reminds me of the way a performing musician prepares him or herself before plunging into a piece of music; what I do physically looks like what they do.
Then I start to feel the keys after I let my breath out and ideas start to flow. It’s as if they fly up and out of the keyboard, and then through me. Obviously, it must be the other way around, but the keys and I seem to have become one. Weeping on the floor under my desk the night I came home to a dead computer, my hands blackened with NYC soot from the fittings and cables I disparately connected and disconnected in my panicked attempt to resuscitate it, I realized the touch of the keys was the first and most important thing I would miss. After the typing starts, the computer screen springs to life making my ideas manifest, and enabling even more thoughts to grow from the earlier ones.
Reliving those feelings made it very obvious that the tools of my trade and the way I handle them are key to unlocking my creativity. Yes, part of it is that I can’t read my own messy handwriting when I scribble with enough speed to allow for pacing and rhythm in my work. Sure, my hands don’t move as fluidly as they did when I was twenty; and of course I have to sit hunched over a pad of paper with a pen when I write long-hand; but those impediments aren’t why the computer in my home-office is my creativity conduit.
It seems I have a very specific ritual for writing after all, even though I didn’t know it until fate and my vacation conspired to drive the point home. The specific pieces of my ritual need to be in place, too. I need to be balanced just right on my chair, at the right height desk, with my window open to allow fresh air, sunshine and bird songs in to set my mood. I also need classical music (no words) playing in the distance (in the kitchen next to my office, not from the computer) like a vague but beautiful ambient life force. Then I need my beloved instrument, my computer and its gorgeous screen and wireless keyboard with just the right “touch”, to unleash my literary spirits.
With all those things in place, there’s a good chance I’ll overlook the ‘other world’, the one I live in the rest of the time, all day; which is why I’m a binge writer. I forget where I am. My routine may not produce the most stable commercial product, but it’s a dependable catalyst for creativity. Isn’t it ironic I never appreciated its importance until my typing keys were silenced by my computer’s tragic illness? Believing myself to be a free-spirited risk-taker allergic to routine and gimmicks, I discounted the importance of the ‘Creative Habit’, as Twyla Tharp called it. I suppose the fact that my creative routine grew organically made me unaware of it, which is odd since I’ve always believed in the ritual of preparation in my other pursuits.
For example, I would never go through a workout, even privately in my own home, without putting on my dance workout clothes to prepare myself for the challenge. I also know only too well the importance of repeating the same preparation routine every time I step up to a golf tee or putting green. Why are they similar to the introduction we have to go through before approaching some creative endeavor? Because there has to be a passkey, or passe-par-tout as they say in France, in order to get from the conscious physical world around you to that other world where no one can go but you alone. Questioning my artistic friends at a recent meeting we had at the Frick Collection in New York brought that home for me with the certainty of collective agreement: we have to transition to that other world to create, and the ritual is the best way to do it.
Okay; enough; I admit it. I love you and need you back, Computer, or I can’t write. You have no idea the hell I went through to create this piece in an attempt to make the most of a bad situation. I think I’ve been amply punished for taking you for granted. Now, are you satisfied? You may be ‘just a computer’ to everyone else, but to me you’re the very beginning of my creative routine; my passkey to the writing world.