Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: process

On The Creative Flow and Kidney Stones

     Sometimes there is a flow, y’know?

     Sometimes it all just comes out, rushing and tripping over itself to get on the page. It comes so fast and so hard that you spend hours and hours throwing it down, but the stream still doesn’t let up. Not until you’re finally mentally and even a bit physically exhausted. Then you pack up, go home and have a great day.

     But sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it’s like having kidney stones.

     You can feel the flow, deep inside of you. It wants out. No, it needs out. So you go to the place where you can get it out, but it doesn’t come the way you want it to. It comes out in frustrating trickles. And it hurts. It hurts so much that you don’t even want to do it anymore. So you throw it down and walk away.

     But you can’t stay away for long. You need to get it out. Even though every time you try, the pain flares up and you begin to hate the process.

     What do you do then?

     Keep trying. Keep working. I know it hurts. I know you can see blood in it and it kinda smells funny. That’s fine. It’s alright. It’s still coming out, and that’s what is important. Eventually the stone will pass. It’ll pass when the pain and the struggle is at its zenith. Then, suddenly, you’ll be cured and the flow will return.

     I’ve had creative kidney stones for a week now. It hurts. I feel like I’m bleeding onto the page. I’m probably going to miss my self-imposed deadline, unless this stone gets passed today. But I’m not too discouraged. I’m still standing over the toilet, trying my best. Sweating and groaning and swearing, but still here. It’ll pass one day.

     And, yes, I did just liken the entire creative process to urination. So there.

The Writer’s Home

     When thinking about the best place to write or do whatever our creative spirit moves us to do, there are phases.

     First, we picture the perfect environment as a place of seclusion with ample lighting, classical music in the background and an expensive mahogany desk. Or something like that. Probably something with a bunch of quotes on the wall. And maybe a poster. And an espresso machine.

     If we’re unlucky enough, we might even be able to manufacture such an environment. And we sit there, in our expensive chair made from baby cows, and frown.

     Because it didn’t help. Writing is still hard work.

     Then we figure that the environment counts for nothing. We force ourselves to adapt to every and any situation. We try to work at home, despite the screaming kids. We try to work at coffee shops, despite the noise. We try to steal a few hours at work on the night shift, despite the eerie silence and darkness. And things get better.

     But it’s still hard work.

     Since we’re versatile at this point, we end up doing our work in a variety of different places. And, if we’re mindful, we start to notice that our productivity levels are higher at certain places / times / settings. I, for example, discovered I work best in a public place, surrounded by people who don’t know me.

     And then a temptation arises.

     Because we suddenly realize that there is an ideal writing environment. It’s just a little counter-intuitive.

     This is a dangerous realization to touch, because it tempts us into thinking that all our bad days are due to the place we sit.

     My life does not allow me to sit at the coffee shop every day. If I’m lucky, I get there a couple times a week. And my work is certainly best there. One day at the coffee shop is worth four normal days. That stat makes me look at my normal days and question why I bother with them at all.

     But that thought fails to take stock of the inter-connectivity of … well, everything.

     What I do during the week touches my coffee shop weekends. If I spend the week in discouragement and idleness over my inability to transport my coffee shop environment to my night shifts, what sort of energy will I be passing on to the weekend? I’m pretty sure that the moment I neglect the hard, inefficient grind of the weekdays, I’ll start to fail even at the coffee shops.

     Because the writer’s home is not a room or a desk or a shop. It’s where the story is.

Writing and Emotions

     Here’s how a night of writing typically goes:

  • 1:00-1:10 – I sit down with computer, notebook, tea and water. I turn on some ambient Zen music. High expectations and energy. I’m going to rock my own face off tonight!
  • 1:10-1:40 – I get distracted by Facebook, Twitter and blogging. If I’m lucky this produces a new blog post, a couple Tweets and a Facebook share. If I’m less lucky this produces nothing.
  • 1:40-3:00 – I turn off all my distractions and look at what needs doing. Generally this produces a sickening angst. I see some plot holes and character inconsistencies. I realize that I have made a horrible mistake and I never should have started writing in the first place. I should have been an actor. Or an accountant. Or anything at all because I suck at this and it’s going nowhere and I’m wasting my time and it’s all pointless and I’m an idiot and OH GOD NOOOO!
  • 3:00-3:30 – Play Doom II
  • 3:30 – Guilt forces back to the stupid book.
  • 3:31-6:00 – I work. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. But, as I work, the story takes hold of itself. I write. Tap, tap, tap go my fingers. My characters breathe and live and act. I’ve forgotten that I’m writing. I am simply being. I am doing what I do. And, suddenly, I notice that it’s nearly 6am. I look at my wordcount and I gasp. I read it over and I gasp again. I did well. Not perfect. Needs work. But the scenes are true. The characters are real. Dear God, I’m a writer.
  • 6:01 – Happy dance.

     Okay, maybe that’s not a typical day of writing. I don’t really have typical days. But the wild roller coaster of feelings is real. In one night I’ll both despise and adore my work. I’ll both despise and adore myself. But most nights end on a higher note than they began. Which leads me to believe the higher emotions are the more authentic. Which, further, leads me to believe I’m on the right track.

     How about you? What strange things does your creative outlet do to your heart?

It’s Quiet … Too Quiet

     I’ve heard preachers claim that noise is the music of hell. Have you heard that before? Silly, eh?

     I used to try writing in the library. I went nearly every day for a month. I think I managed a couple hundred words a day. A pittance. Good enough to keep the dream alive but not enough to give it breath.

     The problem with writing in a library is that it’s too quiet. And when it’s too quiet, it gets really loud. I can hear the gentle tinkling of the air conditioner. Down on the other side of the library two people are having a conversation in hushed whispers that I can hear perfectly. The employees are gently putting books on the shelf. And they’re all so damned quiet that the noise is overwhelming.

     One of my favorite places to write is the mall food court. There is not a drop of quietness to be found.

     Teens yelling and goofing off at the table next to me. Janitors cleaning up spills and emptying garbage bins. The loud smells of food and coffee dancing throughout the place. Always movement. Always life. Always noise.

     When everyone is special, no one is. When everyone is quiet, no one is. And when everything is loud and chaotic, in truth it is peace and quiet of a purity that is hard to manufacture.

     When there is noise and movement all around you, it’s easy to sink into that special place where all the good things flow. But when everyone around you is trying to be quiet, then the tiniest change in the artificial stasis is jarring.

     Don’t seek for peace and quiet. It only exists in places where there is no life. And don’t dare try to create art in a place where there is no life. Noise is a gift, not a curse. Embrace it. Love it. It charges your art and soothes your psyche if you let it. And if you’re writing at home and your wife and kids are trying their best to create an environment of peace and quietness, tell them to watch a loud movie and listen to music and wrestle in the next room. It’ll make your process that much better.