Sunday, February 19, 2012

Welcome Back

I am frequently asked, "How do you write so well? How does one create and maintain a successful blog? Where do the ideas come from? How do you get the words to flow?" This is perhaps the single commonality amongst every writer in the world, regardless of culture, creed, age, gender or language. We are all asked this question. If you write, particularly if you do so with any sort of success whatsoever, people who do not write want to know how you do it. They want the magic PowerPoint bullets which will transform them from a person with great ideas to a person who has written those great ideas down in a form that is entertaining, insightful, or compelling. Consistently, every author interviewed delivers a variation of the same response to this question: writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Writing -- whether it be scripts, music, blogs, novels, or science papers -- is work. If you do it for a living, you need to work even when the 10% chooses not to show up for the day. The problem is that while you can train diligence, inspiration is fickle. At times, the muse screams like a banshee, and a writer literally can not get the words down fast enough. Personally, I relate strongly with novelists who talk about characters who literally won't shut up, characters that have lives and notions of their own, characters that veer the story in a completely unexpected direction, characters that ruin the plot, characters that take over the book and require sequels ad nausea. In my case, articles oft times spring full grown into my head like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus. Other times, I'll start an article on one topic and an idea sends me spinning orthogonally in an entirely different direction. Good writers let this happen. A writer allows the organic flow of their creative self to take over the process. Editing, self-censorship, second thoughts all come later. The first trick is to let those ideas get out of your head, on to the page or into your music, let the fresh air blow through them and give them time to spread out. The 90% is spent cleaning up the resulting mess, paying bills, and answering fan mail.

Now if I were a professional writer (e.g. if you all PAID for these hundreds of thousands of words I've spilled over nearly six years), I would not have the luxury of failing to write for three weeks. Pretending professionalism, I have in the past queued up articles in advance of major life events just in case I could not or would not be able to post new content. It has been a point of pride, in fact, this ability to consistently deliver new material over an extended duration… A test, as it were, of my ability to masquerade as a columnist rather than as the technical writer and project management consultant I am in the Real World. However, the tumor and extensive plastic surgery required to patch me up derailed me completely. I just couldn't bring myself to do the 90% required to get articles onto the page and into the queue. Maybe my id is secretly both spiteful and incredibly vain and decided to make everyone else suffer while my face was reconstructed. Maybe facing my return to the paid work force, I was taking the first steps towards letting go of the Toast Floats project. Or, maybe I'm just lazy.

I marvel at the self-discipline of columnists and journalists who crank out articles year after year with the full knowledge that sometimes they are writing in complete absence of any interest or inspiration in their own work. The real giants in the field must somehow infuse their writing with freshness even in the presence of complete ennui, just as a Broadway actor must deliver a compelling and genuine performance even on the 100th night. Amateurs bloggers like myself, though, have the luxury of simply stopping when the 10% takes a flier. In my case, Inspiration took one look at the estimates for forehead flap surgery, told me to go to hell, and went on vacation. So lacking any self-discipline or any financial incentive or frankly even the faintest shame or remorse, I stopped.

In any case, yesterday I was at a wine festival with some of the best, warmest people in the world -- Ceilydh's Evan and Diane and Lauren of Pico -- and an article sprung full blown into my head. Another swam through my hind brain as I drifted off to sleep last night. A third smacked me literally between the eyes as my wonderful surgical nurse Susan was cleaning goo and scabs off my second nose this morning. Inspiration started whispering in my ear on the walk to the cafe. She took over as soon as I pulled up TextEdit. I started to write about the wine festival and instead this came out… these words you are reading now, written in a Starbuck's knock off in Remeura with an insanely expensive latte cooling on the table beside me.

Writers are compelled to write. The dirty little secret is that there are no PowerPoint bullets that can help you. If you don't write, you don't have to. If you write, you write because you have no choice.

Toast to Ms. Inspiration: Welcome back, babe. I missed you.


Sherry said...

Love your post. My sentiments exactly.

Hope the reconstruction goes well. Glad you have your favorite friends around to help you through the low spots.

judith said...

Take your time, I'll be here. Even if you just post "I'm still here, bobbing in the bay." or something to that effect. Feel better soon.

dmmbruce said...

Welcome back!


Very glad that you are feeling more your old self now. Best wishes with continued face recovery.


dale said...

Hey Toast - Glad you're back. After 5 + years of reading your blog, when you went MIA, I discovered that reading your blog has become one of those addictions I really enjoy and have no intention of giving up. Kind of like a chocolate craze and suddenly find myself without and no way to acquire more.

Regardless, should you feel the need to put this project to bed, I understand. Life goes on and change is pretty much standard. I'll have to be content with having had the experience of reading your blog.

While you're still writing the blog, I have the chance, long overdue, to thank you for your blog. It has kept me engaged with the thought of returning to being a live-aboard again. I'm almost there. Hope to set sail in the early Fall.

Again, welcome back and thank you so very much.

Singing Land Cruiser said...

My Dear Toast, Just to let you know how your presence on this little blue ball has affected some of the amoebas that blindly roam. You and your writing have caused this family to take the step into the unknown. We 1st built a bus from scratch, sold/tossed our STUFF! Went back on tour, singing around the West, mgt an rv resort in Ca. and then in Ut. And now we have one of our very own in Mo. This has always been a dream for us and had I not read your Blog that early new years eve morning, I / we would not have had the guts to take that step. So I thank the Gods that smiled the day you were given to us.
All the Best to you and yours My Dear Toast.

Anonymous said...

DNA. You will not simply survive; you will persevere...

Nuff' said....

Lindal Kidd said...

You nailed it solid with that last paragraph. Once a writer *becomes* a writer, it's an addiction that can't be overcome.

We write because we have no choice...and, when we have talent like yours, the world's a better place for it. Thank you, Toast!

Lene Larsen said...

I think I love you guys. - Love your posts. Such an inspiration.