Wednesday, October 03, 2007

With Or Without You

I was sipping my coffee this morning, feeling like it was literally warming me from within, and mulling over this question: what are the outside elements that my writing can't live without? I'm not talking about an active imagination or moment-to-moment inspiration, but real, tangible things that I need to write well. In college, I couldn't work without music: everyone thought it was so strange that I'd read and write with background noise, but I truly couldn't get anything done without it, so my stereo was always on in my room or else my Walkman (remember them?) was always plugged into my ears in the library.

These days, here are the two I came up with:

1) Coffee. Yes, partially because I'm half-brain dead in the morning, but also because I think it has a psychological effect on me as well. I think that researchers have discovered this too (I'm nearly certain that I've read studies about this), noting that for many people, coffee is more than a physical stimulant, that it's also a psychological signal that it's time to be more alert and time to start your day. And certainly, for me, it is. I drink my coffee, and my brain says, "Hey, okay, let's start your work."

2) An organized desk. This one is maybe weirder. I'm not sure. But I think I have a teeny touch of OCD because I absolutely can't work on a cluttered space. So before I start writing, I have to straighten everything into perfect piles and if I see a smudge or a light coating of dust or whatever, I have to clean it off. My husband laughs at me because I'm the same way with the dinner table. (As I said, probably OCD..and not that OCD is laughable or funny, but he finds my idiosyncrasies amusing, in the way that spouses how I can't go to sleep unless the closet door is closed.) I can't eat dinner until the table is presentable. I mean, I truly can't stand to sit there - I'm anxious and antsy and bothered by the mess. My husband's idea of presentable means pushing the newspapers and mail and ipods and my son's cars and other crap into a giant, towering heap on one side of the table, and then, inevitably before I sit down to eat, I have to organize it into something neat and linear...and thus, I can actually enjoy dinner. Anyway, I've digressed, but much like our dining table, my desk needs to be palatably organized - as if a cluttered desk means cluttered work - before I can dive in.

So what about you? What can't you write without? Good light? Music? A picture of your family peering over at you? A daily run through certain blogs or websites?


Anonymous said...

I can't write unless there are absolutely no distractions. That means that the dishes have to be cleaned, the clutter put away, the desk organized and everyone else is somewhere else or sleeping.

I actually write best in the middle of the night (I'm a night owl -- I have much more energy in the middle of the night than I do in the middle of the day), with no lights on and total silence in the house.

Yes, I think I'm strange for it, but I swear, I'm most productive under these conditions. When I was in university, I'd do my homework in a quiet cubicle up on some deserted floor of my favorite building on the campus and put in earplugs. I always got the best grades under these conditions.

Robin said...

Hi Allison,
Am so looking forward to your visit on the show a week from Saturday! Department of Lost and Found is a terrific read!! I LOVE first novels! (and am excited to read that #2 is set for next fall!)
What can't I write without? Distractions....I need distractions so that I can write -do something else and then go back to my writing. That sounds strange now that I'm distracted by reading it. Coffee, for sure - even getting up to make a fresh pot is a welcome distraction!
Speak to you soon!

Trish Ryan said...

As odd as it sounds, I'm discovering that I need a deadline. I'm much better if I have a mental timeline of how long I have to complete something. It makes me focus rather than wandering off to do the laundry or check email.

Coffee helps, too!

DJRM said...

I'm with you, Allison, on the coffee thing. It's not the caffeine (although that helps), but that coffee is a "grown up" drink and that means it's time to work.

Another "must have" is that I be warm. I can NOT write with cold hands or feet.

One last necessity is headphones/earbuds. I may be listening to music, maybe white noise, maybe nothing at all, but I have to have those things in my ears to get serious about what I'm doing.

Jen A. Miller said...

I have to have coffee in the morning. It's a signal to start the day. I have something to drink by my side through the rest of the day, too -- usually water or tea. I think I just like having it there.

I also need music. I'm an albums person, so I like to listen to entire CDs straight through. What I like to write to varies, but I swear writing my first book would have been impossible without Guster. I like to edit to classical music, too.

For some reason, I write best while wearing my sneakers. In crunch times, I wear a hat. I think it has something to do with closing in my mind.


Allison Winn Scotch said...

I love these!

Jen- Ha! I love the hat thing. And weird – I have to take my sneakers OFF to write. We're all so strange.

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

My computer! hee hee.

Angela Williams Duea said...

I can't listen to music or have any distractions - although when I was writing a novel about a garage band, I had certain songs I listened to at the start of writing, just to get me into the attitude.

I also work best with a deadline. I used to be part of a critique group that forced me to have a new chapter written twice a month. Alas, they've disbanded and I haven't found a good replacement.