As any writer knows, the creative process can be a peculiar thing, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, to those watching from the outside. Speaking for myself, I have my frumpy pilled camel color sweater that’s kept me just the right amount of cozy, through many a book writing endeavor. I would have been lost without it.
As I get older my process has shifted. I find it’s no longer just about the cozy. It’s more about the crowbar prying me away from the television or the “to-do list” or kids in need or the husband that I swear, uses me for the carpool lane when he takes me on a business trip. Gone are the glory days of writing for an entire summer under a tree, on one of those old fashioned wooden swings, where my biggest problem was, “Time to charge my laptop. Guess I’ll just have to write inside my charming rented cabin in the woods.” Ah, sweet memories, when my books pretty much wrote themselves.
Now I’m more like a dog spinning around three times before sitting down. There’s so much to do, I’m whirling and twirling and running until I plunk down, exhausted. I cannot write after having “plunked.” Even a dog would agree. When a dog spins around three times, is it instinct? I think not. The dog has simply found its process for a really great nap. “If I spin around, I’ll get a little woozy and tired, plus I’ll shoo away any bugs and snakes that I’d rather not sleep on. I’ve cleared all the worry away and I’m feeling a little loopy now so I’m ready for sleep.” See? Even animals need a process. Writers need a creative process. It takes a bit of experimenting sometimes to find it. A dog’s goal may be to have a nice snooze. Mine is to find the time, place and most importantly, the mindset to write.
I get tired, and I mean really zonked. Life is busy and distractions bombard me like confetti at a parade. I think about the dog spinning around and around until its dog universe aligns perfectly. It’s canine Zen. Then, and only then, is the dog content to rest.
I have experimented a thousand ways, up, down and sideways, to find my perfect creative process—the steps that I can take to ensure a positive writing experience where the world is my oyster and imagination spills onto the pages. Oh, that delicious writing frenzy, where my hands are barely keeping up with my mind—what a rush! If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I could pay off the national deficit and bring world peace in one fell swoop.
Alas, more often than not, I’m busy with errands and the dirty dishes are screaming at me. I’m wearing yesterday’s socks but if I skip the laundry I have an hour to write something…anything.
Pressure doesn’t mix with creativity. I’d love to be a Hemingway or a J.K. Rowling where I can actually write for a living, undisturbed, and hire a maid to boot. I could say to everyone, “I’m going to work now, see you in eight hours or so,” and walk outside onto that swing set under the tree, and no one would tell me to go back to school or consider a career in real estate or wonder if I had a screw loose.
The reality is, I’m not Steven King or Milton or Shakespeare, so I have to be a mayfly. A mayfly is an insect with the unfortunate distinction of having the shortest lifespan of the entire animal kingdom—anywhere from a half hour to twenty-four hours. Mayflies do not eat, they live only to create. Literally. They reproduce and that’s it. And they do so in a teensy weensy window of time. That’s how I feel. I am forced sometimes, under great pressure, to create in a nano-second. It’s either that, or give up writing.
Mayflies are born with one thing on their minds. They don’t come out of their egg and say, “First I’ll balance my checkbook, then grocery shop, mop the floor, go to work and…oh yeah, see if I can squeeze in a date with that hot little morsel fluttering her wings at me.” Nope. It’s the hot chick or nothing. I bet they don’t even care about dirty socks.
And so, I need to prioritize. Catch myself at my most undistracted, my freshest, my most alert, my most positive. And I’ve found it. I’ve found my mayfly. My maximum creativity. It takes work to get hatched out of an egg. That little mayfly comes out pumped up and raring to go! Exercise. That’s the key. So first thing in the morning, I wrestle my blankets until I’ve found the corner of the sheet, and emerge, fresh and alive—a brand new day with brand new opportunities.
I force myself to put on, not my cozy fluffy robe that has a homing beacon for the couch. Instead, I put on my exercise clothes that say, “Energize, Mr. Scott!”
I pour my coffee and a glass of water—coffee for my pleasure, water for my health—and get on my exercise bike. Then, and only then, do I get to pick my favorite show and watch it. I have to be disciplined and never watch my favs unless I’m on the bike. Now I associate the pleasure of a kick-ass chick flick with exercise. I’ve tricked myself into being… healthy! Sneaky me.
Just like the mayfly, emerging with energy to do only one thing, I get off that bike, pumped up and glistening, grab my laptop and step outside to my patio. If I listen to the rustling leaves and the birds singing, I can transport myself to that swing in the woods, and… I write.
The phone rings, invariably. But this is my time. Like the creative span of the mayfly, I can indeed live a lifetime on paper in this precious moment or two. I feel not shame, but pride, when I send a quick text message to my phone friends, “Can I call you in a couple hours? I just sat down to write.” I am validated. My creative lifespan for the day has been honored.
When I finish—when my little window of existence as a writer has been spent for the day—I am left with a few paragraphs in my journal, or the beginning of a novel, or a little story about dogs spinning and insects reproducing, which to the normal human may seem curious at best, but just may make sense to a few other mayflies like me.