Blogger and literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted this video the other day about the strange writing habits we adopt to get ourselves to pull up that chair and get to the business of tapping out sentences on a keyboard.
Jamie Ford likens his ritual to writing like the Unabomber, sequestered somewhere in an unnamed location. Robert Dugoni says his kids know Daddy’s writing when they hear him talking to himself in the next room. And Erik Larson shares that he wakes at 4:30 in the morning (oh dear God), grabs a cup of coffee and two Double Stuf Oreos (apparently they’re so stuffed Nabisco couldn’t fit the second f) and then writes “very much alone.” (Erik? So much sugar first thing in the morning? That’s just begging for a 6 a.m. sugar crash.)
All shared some version of the need for isolation, and I’d say that’s probably the most important thing I need when I sit down to write. Take away my laptop and give me the back of a receipt and an golf pencil, and I can get by. But the distracting noise of music with lyrics or of people nattering next to me? I’m done. Hard to believe I came up writing in a newsroom, where you couldn’t even find isolation in a stairwell.
My need for quiet extends to the most straightforward of written communications. God help my husband if he starts talking to me while I’m writing a wedding thank you card (I know, dear sweet wedding guests. Promise, yours is forthcoming). Or the bedraggled NYU student in the carrel behind me at Bobst Library, crunching his breakfast of Doritos while I’m trying to craft my Facebook status. When I write, my whole being takes on the body language of a porcupine, my passive aggressive glances screaming at gate-crashers to Shattup! I need to feel isolated, need to feel a total intimacy with the words on the screen as I delve into memory or description, truths I’m trying to give voice to or embarrassing personal stories I need to unburden myself of. So how do I do that, even when I can’t find isolation in the NYU library, or right now, as I write this and there’s chattering not a stone’s throw from my desk? Swimmer’s earplugs. Of the clear, gummy variety that you can buy at Duane Reade. They work so well, I even use them when I do have that rare moment of quiet. Because as soon as I tuck them in, it’s as if I’m underwater. All goes quiet around me, and I know it’s time to focus and get to the business of writing sentences.