Friday, April 08, 2005

Typing, daily

My father got up every morning around seven a.m. He would walk to the local coffee shop and have a cup or two with the hoi polloi. He would return home before 9:30 AM and sit at "the machine". The late industrial revolution sound effect of a manual typewriter would then start up. It would go, with very few pauses longer than a minute, until someone brought him a sandwich, or reminded him to eat. When I would come home from school, he would finish whatever sentence he was in the middle of and we'd play catch for an hour. Then back to the machine. Until dinner. If he was enjoying himself a lot, or had a deadline, he would go back to the machine and write until nine, ten at night. If he didn't have a book or story to write, he'd knock out essays or spend the day writing letters. Hundreds of thousands of letters.

He did this five or six days a week for something like fifty years. The result was not always literature, but sometimes it was. Whatever the case it was always readable and never, ever dull. In this way he wrote around 200 novels, of which at least 170 of them saw print in his lifetime (I counted the ones on the shelf this afternoon.)

We all have different processes, obviously. I read recently that Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day and then stopped. (I think the number was 500. At any rate it an arbitrary number of words.) In the documentary "Comedian", Seinfeld says that he used to write only in the mornings, until one day he saw a bunch of construction workers at lunch, and thought, "If they can bear to go back to work after lunch, I should be able to do it, too..."

I'm not making a point here, just telling a story about a certain style of work. I'm certainly not capable of it. Too many distractions, too much dithering, and wondering and internet surfing. But it seems like something to aspire towards. If you really do love it. My dad had no patience with writers who agonized over process. He always said, "why would you want to do something you don't enjoy?" I've had blocks, certainly, but when I'm cruising along at top speed, I know what he meant. I try to remember, in the low moments, how much I enjoy sitting at the machine and bashing ahead and spinning out the new stuff. The times when you almost can't type fast enough to get it all down and it all seems fantastic and you're proud of it. I'm willing to endure the foggy times and the procrastination-driven self-loathing because all that is temporary; it's nothing. It always passes, and suddenly it's easy. I slip into the groove and what follows is the sheer joy of racing forward happily, that satisfaction and contentment which is completely unique to writing.

I love that feeling, and it comes readily, like the way the body adjusts quickly to the temperature of a swimming pool. There's always the shock of diving in, but then you pop up and spit out a little clorine and brush the hair out of your eyes and it's all fine. Suddenly something that was cold and harsh and literally hurt you feels warm and soothing and utterly comforting.

So that's why I do it; at least it's one strong reason.

Why do you do it?