Sunday, December 26, 2010

How Writers Write

Writers, Writing, City Pass, Soup, Cooks, Hugh MacLeod, smoking, New Business, I didn't write this today. And I didn't write it on a keyboard. I wrote it in my head over the last couple of months and just typed it today. In a very serious way, it wrote itself. I'm just the vessel for serving. I call it passive, intuitive, cognitive analysis and composition - or - the art of gathering ingredients, throwing them into the soup, and letting it all simmer on the back-burner until ready to serve - as opposed to defining a problem and sitting down to deliberately solve it in a logical and mathematical way on a piece of paper. Yes, of course I have logic and mathematics in the mix, but they've been thrown together with art and passion, serendipity and whatnot and we just have to see to what height they rise in the mix when it's all finished. And as much as you may like the soup, that's no guarantee that you're going to like seeing what goes on in the kitchen during the making.

A few months ago, I had a client who required that I write in his office. I agreed because he was already a fan of work I had done for his company - clients had complimented both my client service and writing skills. Little did I see that making him privy to the daily ravages of actually doing it would be the issue we couldn't resolve.

One day, after a staff meeting, he asked myself and another staffer to stay for more specific instruction. He then declared that our smoking was a cause for his concern, not from a health standpoint at all, but because the time we spent away from our desks was taking valuable time away from his work and costing him money. So he announced that our pay would be docked 10 minutes for every cigarette we had, and that the receptionist would write it down when we left the building. Childish I thought. He actually believed that the time I spent behind the computer was the time when I was actively working. He didn't understand that those few minutes with a smoke, or a walk around the block were as productive or possibly more productive than sitting with a digital chisel and trying to carve the stuff out of stone. This guy had liked my writing because he said it was funny - but let me tell you, you won't get funny when the boss is standing over your desk with a whip. You'll just feel funny. And so we parted ways.

Last month I wrote 4 new business presentations in one week, but in reality, I only typed them. One had been brewing through conversations with a number of clients for quite some time. Then it came out as an email, which ended up as a blog post, which ended up accruing one client - but not the one it was meant for originally. Another was written while having coffee with someone and yet another had been written long before I even met the man to whom it would be presented. It was a collection of thoughts, already thunk, but just waiting for the right audience. I wrote one entire presentation for a client whilst attending three marketing conferences in one week. I listened, I participated, I ate, I drank - but all the while, I was really writing. I already had a skeletal idea of what I wanted to say, but the conferences helped me fill in the holes and put things in order, by not doing it logically - but just letting things fall into their natural positions in the back of my head.

I don't know a lot of writers per se, but I do know a lot of artists and creators, and I can tell you this: They are working all the time - even when they don't seem to be working. My friend Hugh MacLeod , on reflecting on his 20 years in the working world, figured that, "1/2 of his working time was unpaid". I think that's a generous assessment. I suspect it is much more than half the time that we are thinking, but not on the clock. And that's how I think writers write. The time at the keyboard is just typing -- and editing (?), is something completely different, entirely.

blog comments powered by Disqus

The Wild Wild East Dailies

D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
Find me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Read my blog: The Wild Wild East Dailies and keep up on our efforts with aSaigon/CreativeMorning.