Friday, August 19, 2022

Dreaming Alone, by Josh Stallings

 Q: How do you beat procrastination? Do you use writing prompts? Tricks to get your motor running and word count climbing?

A: “Blue crazy fall creampuff dreaming alone car carcass oh here we go too long blinking stop light off pleasure timing clod hopper clinging to face long sea turtle love killing Aperol kicking ballerina sad time green supper oh damn vomit comixs fritz can go bigger than ever.”


A: That is word-vomit. This was a two minute version but I usually do six minutes of writing gibberish. It’s harder that it seems, the brain keeps trying to stack words in order, to make sense. When I feel that happening I toss in another non sequitur. The point for me is to shut down the logical (editor) side of my brain. Allow the intuitive side to write the first drafts. When I get stuck, it is almost always that my logic brain has run an idea to its inevitable failure. My brain is really good at that. Sadly, it can’t help my writer’s brain. 

To train the writer’s brain to take over, I will next pull a title or two from the pile of “word-vomit.”

My picks: "Dreaming Alone" “Sea Turtle Love” or “Killing Aperol.” I’d write my favorite title at the top of the page, it’s like a writing prompt that my subconscious comes up with. Next I set a timer for twenty minutes and write or type as fast as I can. No stopping to correct or fix. Full tilt word boogie. I give my mind the freedom to roar and roam without worrying about getting it right. I used this process exclusively to write All The Wild Children. Really, that Anthony nominated memoir was the product of weekly word vomit sessions. Yes it took some editing, everything takes some editing, but the meat of All The Wild Children was written in twenty minute bursts.

The thing I love to do, the thing that keeps me sane, is writing. And when I need it most I avoid doing it. Why? That’s not rhetorical, really I want to know why? If you know why I avoid a task that gives me so much pleasure, drop it in the comments.

Charley Huston used to say, he’d think about an idea, research it, hold himself from starting to write until “wheels were smoking,” then pull off the brakes and let it fly. He talked a lot about writing with velocity. I interpret that as writing so fast and hard that your logic brain can’t keep up.

I believe my best ideas come when I am careening around the corners in a smoking four wheel drift, pounding keys and shaking the house. Everything I do is to get to that state.

That said, I have also learned that if I’m avoiding writing it could mean somewhere in the book I’ve lost the thread. I need to walk and think. Re-read and try to see where I lost it. If all else fails I use word-vomit to hit a mental re-set. Often half way through my wild typing of nonsense I hit a meditative state. Fingers type and I start to see images. I mentally note them and let them flow through me. The images often become a starting point for the chapter.

To get ready to write I build playlists for every book. Music I blast while writing. I write in Scrivener, it helps to organize my research. I collect folders full of photographs that tell me something about the world I’m writing. I collect newspaper articles. A folder labeled “Characters” has bios on folks in the story, and a collection of names I may want to use some where. What I read in the early part of the writing matters. For the book that’s on submission I only read books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For the book I’m working on now I’m reading John Steinbeck exclusively. I don’t know why only Steinbeck, just a hunch that it is what’s required to write this book.    

All of this is to build a world that is complete and will pull me into it.  

Here are some inspirational statements I’ve taped up on my office walls at different times:

“If not now, when.”

“These may be your last words.”

“Write fiercely.”

“Type bravely.”

“Above all, tell the truth.”

“You will fail, so what.”

I guess these are more confrontational than inspirational. None of them are easy. Writing isn’t easy. It’s amazing. It forces us to take deep inner journeys. It allows us to daydream and call it a job. And some days it is just hard work. But what worth doing isn’t hard from time to time? (Don’t answer, that one was rhetorical.)

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