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Working at Writing

Author:  Moushumi Chakrabarty
Date:   10-25-02

Making a commitment to yourself as a writer often falls into the waiting traps of washing machines, meals and procrastinations - especially if you are a work-at-home type of person. I am. Corporate chit-chat is definitely not what turns me on, writing-wise and in other ways. So when I quit the entire ‘going-out-to-work’ lifestyle, it seemed like a wise decision. Now I was going to do what I really was best at - writing, and full-time, at home.

Ulysses set out with less baggage than me on this quest. I had pre-conceived notions about how a writer’s life should be. I got myself fancy software, installed favorite writing-related quotes on the notice board in front of my Ikea desk, bought a whole bunch of colored stationery - in short, did everything a writer is supposed to do, but write.

Every morning, after the kids and husband had left, I would sit at the computer, surfing the Internet. I called it warming up. Who wouldn’t, with a cup of steaming coffee and last evening’s doughnut beside them?

I’d then open up a blank document after the cup was drained and think, “Okay, now to write.” But a subject and its handmaiden, language, refused to join me. I typed out a long string of letters ("m," for instance), hoping for some inspiration. Next, a walk around the garden, thinking disconsolately that the zinnias were blooming divinely unlike my muse. Then it would suddenly strike me that it was almost noon and I hadn’t made lunch. The kids would be home soon.

With something like relief, I'd rush into the kitchen to start preparing a meal. Midway, the laundry would call out; piles of unwashed clothes wallowing in the basement. Running up and down the stairs leaves me tired and all too soon, the day is done.

However, after some serious thinking, I’ve come up with some tips to combat this dreadful lack of discipline.

  • When you meet someone and they ask you, “What do you do?,” leave out the tremor in your voice when you say, “I’m a writer.”
  • Keep introducing yourself in the mirror. Practice assertive talking: “I’m a writer.”
  • Every morning, when you are about to start, borrow a leaf (or bone) from Pavlov. The trick is reinforcement. Tell yourself you will have an extra éclair after you’ve written a page.
  • Do not go on to the Internet. Save that for later. It’s like a maze; you keep getting into pages of information that may be fascinating, but that you can do without. After all, the mating habits of grasshoppers may make an article, but…
  • Start with writing prompts if you don’t know what to write about. Or just pretend you’re James Joyce and do a stream-of-consciousness.
  • Keep a journal. Like a word processing program or pen, this is an essential tool for the writer. Write about yourself, or nature's beauty, or your husband’s snoring which hardly gave you sleep last night or how you could strangle the neighbor’s dog. Start your writing day with an entry in your journal. Think of that as your warming up exercise.
  • If you like poetry, keep a book of poems on your desk. Look up your favorite poem. A poem can be like dipping into a clear lake on a hot day, it refreshes and energizes so.
  • Tell yourself you will sit in front of the empty page for half an hour, even if you don’t write anything. You have allocated it to be your writing time. That’s what it is. You are not going to do anything else but write. Soon you’ll find boredom is a great stimulator. You’ll start to write just to keep from staring at the empty street.
  • When you manage to write something, make a tick mark on the calendar with a bright red pen. The ritual is to have these tick marks on at least five days in a week. The thought of not having a tick mark on a particular square makes me write without fail.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even if you write a few lines, pat yourself on the back.

Now go and have that éclair.

Copyright 2002 Moushumi Chakrabarty. All rights reserved.