Earlier this week I received a comment from a “reader” of my blog. The comment didn’t refer to any of the specific posts, but asked a general question related to writing: How do I clear my mind and center myself to begin writing? The “reader” claimed to be genuinely interested in the craft. The comment was full of praise for the blog, which the “reader” labeled “fantastic.” How could I quibble when my ego was being so pleasurably massaged?
But I’m a cynic, ever suspicious of lavish praise no matter how badly I might want to believe it. Much as I would’ve loved to post this comment and reply to it, I felt sure it was bogus. A search of the website address that came with it was more confirmation. Though I don’t read Cyrillic, I’m pretty sure they were trying to sell me something, and I didn’t want any of my readers to click on it. The final tipoff came when I Googled the text of the comment and it popped up with only minor variations on countless websites and blogs all over the internet. *sigh* Yeah, I knew it was too good to be true.
Normally electronic spammers and scammers don’t come this close to fooling me. (It sure fooled my spam filter.) Often you can tell at a glance if a comment or email is fake. Maybe it’s trying to sell you “genuine” Gucci bags, or the text is riddled with grammatical and/or spelling errors. Or it reads as if it’s welded together by nonnative speakers. For example, here’s a recent email I received from someone named “Gordon L____ [surname excised to protect everyone],” supposedly at Bank of America:
With regret, I dumped the comment from my phony fan into the spam folder. But then I considered the question he/she had posed. There was value to be found in it, which was one reason I was nearly taken in. I wondered, if this person had been a real reader, what would I have replied? How do I learn to inhabit the quiet space I need to create something out of whole cloth? I started thinking about the process—specifically, my process—and why it works for me. So. Here’s what I do to prepare myself for the day’s writing:
• First I have to make my mind stop babbling. To write, it has to be forced into a semblance of linear thought, not like the flighty, airheaded way it usually thinks. It typically has the attention span of a cricket. (Please don’t suggest meditation. I’ve tried so many times.)
• To calm it I’ll read something absorbing. This sounds easier than it is. Often I’ll have to make a run at the first few paragraphs (or the entire poem) several times while my brain flitters off in pursuit of a shiny, tangential distraction. Once I’m finally settled into the reading, however, the hamster wheel in my head slows its squeaky, frantic turning.
• What I read before writing is often different from what I turn to for bedtime reading. It’s specific to the genre (either poetry or fiction) I’ll be tackling that day. Fifteen or twenty minutes of reading from a work that I admire and/or envy in that genre primes the pump and gets me ready to write.
None of this makes the writing easy, of course. I don’t know a tried-and-true method for that. But this will at least get the process started.
So I appreciate your question, Dear Phony Reader, and I hope I’ve answered it to your satisfaction. My ritual may not work for you, but there are probably as many rituals to choose from as there are writers. For instance you could try Stephen King’s method of listening to hard rock music. It didn’t work for me at all, but I understand he’s had some moderate success with it.
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