Friday, February 9, 2018

A Hard Day's Write

How do you set real life aside and connect with the imaginary worlds you create? And how long do you write each day/week?

by Paul D. Marks

I’ll answer the second question first: Not enough. Especially these days. And I have no idea where the time goes, but it does. I have the luxury of not having a day job and working at home and I still don’t know where the time goes. I’m pretty disciplined, but life happens and keeps me from doing as much writing as I might like to do or have done in the past. I spend a fair amount of time with the dogs, both hanging with them and walking them. Sometimes I find them more interesting than humans and they often have some pretty good ideas for the stories I’m working on, so at least I can count it as productive time 😊.

Now to the first question: Sometimes it is hard not to let real life intrude. But you have to find a way to get into that headspace – the Zone – for writing. There’s so many temptations to keep you from getting there, listening to music, reading, researching, the dogs. Watching movies. Facebooking. Friends. On the other hand, these things – real life – while, distracting me, also often give me ideas for stories so it’s a 50-50 proposition. Sometimes it’s hard to get in the Zone, but listening to music can get me into the mood for a certain type of story. For example, if I’m writing something set in the 1940s I’ll listen to swing. If I just want background music I often listen to baroque. Something dark, the Doors or Leonard Cohen. And sometimes silence is the best. I used to always (try to) write in silence. But sometimes you need something to block out the world. Music does that, and so much the better if it helps with the mood of the story.

And while researching can be a distraction ’cause I enjoy it so much I also get a lot of information for my stories. I recently finished a mystery set on the homefront during World War II. I love history, I love American history and I love World War II history. So I was a pig in you-know-what doing the research for that novel (for which I would very much like to get an agent…). I spent a lot of hours on various aspects of the research. I used the internet, books, maps. But my best go-to source for how Los Angeles was in the forties was my mom and her friends. They could tell me things that weren’t in books. So back to the point, the research kept me away from the writing, away from the Zone. But it also gave me things to put in the story when I did finally get back to the Zone. There are a lot of distractions, but some of them pay dividends.

I usually work in my home office where I have a nice view. But the office itself is a nightmare-mess. My desk is a mess – but you know what Einstein said about a messy desk: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” There’s also lots of stuff all around, posters and lobby cards from everything from In a Lonely Place to Pulp Fiction to album covers of the Beatles and a poster of Siouxsie and the Banshees. My picture of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird. Boxes of things, books, papers, the kitchen sink. So I have be able to put on blinders, get tunnel vision and just see the computer screen. Sometimes that’s easier than other times. And the way for me to do it is just to sit in the chair and stare at the screen and start typing away.

When that doesn’t work, I can just stare at Edward Hopper prints for inspiration. If anyone can be considered a “noir” painter he’s the one. In the pilot movie for the old TV show Night Gallery, if I remember it correctly, someone would look at a picture and be transported into that scene and a story would develop from there. That’s how I feel about Hopper paintings. They just bring so many stories to mind.

I’ve probably said this before, but when I was younger I had these romantic visions of being a writer on the Left Bank sipping absinthe or drinking Tom Collinses at Joe Allen’s, and when I lived in West LA I would go there. But when I would drink I wouldn’t want to write, I wanted to play, to party – I never got in the Zone that way. So that phase didn’t last long.

There’s so many distractions these days, TV, internet, radio, streaming, walking the dogs. The net. Envy the bucolic writer of the 19th century who had peace and quiet, but also no running water or toilets. So you just have to shut it all out as best you can. Clear your head. Sometimes I’m better at it than other times. But always the key is just to sit down and do it, sooner or later you’re in the Zone without even knowing you crossed the line.

Changing the subject ever so slightly: Earlier in the week, RM gave a nod to the Beatles and their song Paperback Writer. And since today is the anniversary of their first appearance on Ed Sullivan (February 9, 1964), I thought I’d give them a nod too, apropos of nothing:



And now we turn you over to our usual BSP section:

Mind Blowing News: My story “Windward” from Coast to Coast: Privates Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and Me, published by Down & Out Books) has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler. It will be out in the fall. To say I’m blown away is an understatement. – Also selected for Best American Mysteries from this collection is John Floyd’s “Gun Work,” and Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” has been nominated for an Agatha. Not a bad batting average for one book 😁 .

Check out my website:


GBPool said...

I am so glad Einstein said that about a cluttered desk. My office and home are cluttered. I have to walk in sideways to get to my office. As for distractions... it's all research for the next story. In fact I have used bits and pieces from my own life in all my work. Not stuff necessarily about me personally, but things that happened when I was present. I try to keep out of the way of my stories. I'm just the chronicler. Great insight, Paul, into a writer's life. Now I think I'll do some ironing. Ah, the writer's life...

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, Paul. The trick is to find a way to settle into that imaginary world while the distractions of the real one claw at the door.

Susan C Shea said...

So much to enjoy in this post, Paul. Yes to the cluttered desk cliche, but last year mine got so bad that (conjecture) a pair of glasses slid off a pile of paper and into the wastebasket, from where it was transported to Beyond the Eyeglasses Rainbow or something. Yes to the fantasy of being able to drink and write - how the hell did they do it back in the 20s in Paris? And, finally, I got an idea from you. I never listen to music when I write because it distracts me so much. When music is playing, I listen. But I too am writing a WWII story and I need to find some Andrew Sisters to get me onto the scene. So thanks, and congratulation on yet another singling out for your writing!

Unknown said...

True that distraction = inspiration. Distraction can also be dangerous as it can turn up a thousand new ideas. I started to research robotics for a short story and now am a little overwhelmed! Anyway, thank you for the Beatles clip, I especially enjoyed those ecstatic fans :) and congratulations on Windward!!!

Laura said...

Congratulations on Windward's much-deserved success! And just to chime in with Einstein, I do not consider my office to be messy. It is more like Ye Old Curiosity Shoppe, filled with unique ideas (some in the scribble stage, I admit), waiting to connect with each other.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

My desk is cluttered. But I feel comfortable with it that way. I love music but can't listen to it while I work. For me it's a distraction. The real world often gives me inspiration for the fictional one. Often my writing is faction. I enjoyed reading your post.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. I hope the ironing went well and I’m sure it will make it into one of your stories ;-) . And yes, if we judge by how cluttered our desks, offices and even houses are, I’m in the top 1% too.

Thanks, Dieter. Yeah, those real world distractions can be, uh, distracting. As you say, the trick is to settle into the imaginary world and close out the real one.

Thanks, Susan, for your comments and congratulations. The Best American Mysteries thing was a total shock, but a terrific one. And I love your glasses story, I feel things like that happen here too. But I do think you should have a memorial service for your glasses. And enjoy the Andrews Sisters, they are a lot of fun…though maybe not in real life from what I understand.

Thanks, RM, also for your comments and congratulations. And glad you enjoyed the Beatles clip. I’m like a junkie with them, can never get enough. I love what you said about distraction = inspiration. Though I guess it can go too far sometimes.

Thanks, Laura, for your comments and congratulations. I love your way of putting it as the Old Curiousity Shoppe :-) .

Thanks, Jacqueline. I guess I feel comfortable this way too, cause it never changes. And I think the real world definitely gives us inspiration, the key is closing it out when we have to immerse ourselves into the fictional one.

Kaye George said...

Congrats again! About those Left Bank writers who drank all the time. I honestly don't know how they did that, but they did. Different strokes. I can't even form thoughts if I'm drunk. I mean, if I were to get drunk, I wouldn't be able to. Yeah, that.

M.M. Gornell said...

Just reading your post now early Saturday morning. Just what my writing mind and spirit needed to hear. Thank you so much for getting me going this morning--much needed.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Kaye. Yeah, it really amazes me. But I think they drank and wrote at different times, maybe. I don't know. Or maybe they were so used to it it didn't affect them much.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline. Always glad to be of service :-) .