I've always wanted to produce more writing than I do.
Since I can remember it's been a struggle to finish just about anything(writing my Amazon book was like pulling teeth every day, for about two years) and I'm wondering if there are ways to live that are more conducive to writing.
My hypothesis is that there are certain conditions that are favorable to "the writer's life". It's not so radical, I know, but that's the premise of this post.
I threw together a list of five things that usually get me writing again.
1. Traveling(For a While)
I've always known that traveling seems to uncork the bottle of words inside me but I've never really and truly put that into practice. I'm 32 as I write this. Maybe it's time to do that.
I moved to New York City for a few reasons, but one of the big ones is that I hoped it would make me write more. Since being here I've written a blog of my experiences at School for Poetic Computation and one relatively popular post about the virtual reality industry on LinkedIn, but I've written far less than expected.
It's true that you don't necessarily have to fly half way around the world to "travel". Just talking a walk or a bike ride through a new part of town can provide the spark to ignite the literary flames within, at least temporarily.
That said, for me, it's all about the rhythm of traveling. It takes a while to get into that groove. There is something about the constant movement and the sensory excitement that is fantastic fuel for writing of a certain kind.
I feel like most of the stories I tell in conversation nowadays are from two trips I took in 2015 working as a cameraman for a travel company. I've always wanted to be a touring musician and it was the closest thing to being on tour that I've experienced. sans the rabid fans and nightly performance high. My job consisted of filming the local tourist traps and going on bus tours with middle-aged folk and their families. We ate well, slept in nice hotels, saw a lot of the world – it was a blast.
I need to get out there and do something like that again soon. Maybe some sort of volunteer work like Sea Shepherds or Wwoofing.
2. A Great Teacher
Shouts to Beth Appel, my Level One Sketch Writing teacher at Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC. I attended in 2012 and I lived for her class. Apparently she's now the artistic director at the UCB theater in Los Angeles.
Beth's instincts as a teacher were tack-sharp: she didn't let us get away with any cliché bullshit and gave praise when it was deserved. She also loved comedy and her enthusiasm was felt by the class in the presence that she brought and in her knowledge of the craft.
Beth was the archetypal great teacher, but sometimes even a good teacher is good enough to at least get you started writing again. In fact, I had an awful teacher for Level Two Sketch Writing but I still wrote my ass off. Maybe it was to prove to him that I had the potential to be a decent sketch writer, but I still hacked out a lot of sketches nonetheless.
There many worthwhile books on the writing craft(screenwriting books Save the Cat and Adventures in the Screen Trade come to mind, John Gardner's book is fun) but there's something about being in a room with a person who loves writing, knows more than you do, and can teach the craft well that's special.
Great teachers are rare.
3. A Really Good Piece of Writing
Here are three pieces of writing that make me want to write. They are in my "text playlist" that I try to review once a month.
Meetings with Remarkable Men, G.I. Gurdjieff – An amusing book of early 20th-century mystic Gurdjieff's adventures, formatted so that each chapter centers around one of Gurdjieff's close friends. It could be an actual account of one man's life and times, or it could be a series of yarns. Likely it is somewhere in between. When I finished reading these tales of numerous expeditions for what Gurdjieff calls "ancient wisdom", it made me want to do something, whether it was write, travel, whatever. It made me want to break out of the day-to-day patterns I was living in and to create a life worth writing about.
"If Only You Were Lonely", by the Replacements – A song that's somehow cynical, earnest, sarcastic, and well-crafted. The Replacements were about as far from a country band as you can get, defining inner-city slackerdom 5-10 years before grunge came along, but this song deftly hits many of the Great Country Tropes: work sucks, unrequited love, drinking too much. Anyways, just listen to it.
4. Falling In Love
One of the pre-eminent reasons to write. Some "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways"-type stuff. I don't feel the need to go too much into this one. Suffice to say that it works, but it's not something you can force.
5. A Near-Death Experience
I've only had one. I almost died in a car crash when I was 16. My mom and I were on the way to my cousin's funeral and somehow survived unscathed after an 18-wheeler hit our SUV when my mom slammed on her brakes thinking that the light was red when it was not. The truck driver managed to swerve enough so that, instead of hitting us head on, he hit the back-right corner of the car, causing us to spin 270 degrees and crash back into the driver's side of the truck.
That's the only near death experience I've had. I can't say it lit the flames of creativity but the experience is unforgettable, and is at least worthy of note as "the one time I almost died". Luckily, I've never been robbed or had my life directly threatened(knock on all the wood).
In fact, most threats to my life have come from the depression I've experienced and the suicidal ideation it creates. I'd say the depression is probably why I write, but it also greatly inhibits me from writing("what's the point? nothing mattters"), and has in the past.
Many know the Dostoyevsky-as-writer origin story: he was arrested in 1849 on charges of conspiracy and sent to a work-camp in Siberia and suffered a series of mock executions among many other likely horrors. He lived there for nine years. As legend has it, when he was released he wrote every single day for the rest of his life.
The above article argues that it was "the best thing that ever happened to him.'
Lemons to lemonade, I guess. I would probably choose to not go to Siberia, if I had my druthers.
Other Things That Get Me to Write
Other things that sometimes inspire me write and finish work: an encouraging friend, co-writing, hiring an editor on upwork, drugs and alcohol, meditation, practicing a regular self-care routine, therapy, being depressed and lonely.