Saturday, July 31, 2010

Proper maintenance of your tools

[Does that title sound dirty to anyone besides me? Perhaps I should have said "writing tools." But honestly? I can make that dirty in my head, too. Granted, my head is overcrowded with nudges and winks. Whatever.]


Most writers I know take pretty good care of the obvious tools: their computers. They back up their files, run virus scans, and upgrade the equipment when it's feasible (i.e., affordable) to do so. Also, I'm sure those who still crank their words out old school make sure they have fresh pens and plenty of paper on hand. And, I dunnoh, massage their hands regularly to prevent writer's cramp?

But the tool I'm really talking about, the indispensable part of the writer's toolbox, without which no creative endeavor can proceed, is the brain.

Proper maintenance of the writer's brain is essential for optimum word output. Not only quantity (which everyone seems to obsess about), but quality. Anyone can churn out enough blah-de-blah to fill the page, but to keep the reader's eyes glued to it takes more than that. It takes nimbleness and acuity and perception to fit exactly the right words in the right slots to make the whole puzzle of your story come together to form a pleasing picture.

Nimbleness and acuity and perception are difficult to extract from a burned-out, over-tired brain. In my case, impossible.

This was brought home to me yesterday, when I tried to compose a simple paragraph in a simple scene of my WIP. I pounded at that thing until even words like "the" and "said" looked strange to me. If I'd been working with pencil I would've erased a hole in the paper. I could not herd those words together for the life of me. Every time I'd swing around and prod them from one side, they'd scatter out the other. Go to the other side, and they'd split and circle back behind me.

I swear they were laughing at me, pouring out little pixelated guffaws at my expense. Probably even sticking out their tongues while I was banging my head against the keyboard.

Why? Why was this happening?

Because I was exhausted*, and had no business even trying to compose. No point in slicing tomatoes with a dull knife. You just squash the tomatoes and shoot tomato innards everywhere. Take it from me--it pays to invest the time in sharpening the blade before you start. You'll save yourself the gooey mess.

In my case, I should have just given in to my tiredness and rested instead of trying to make my word count for the day. But, as I may have mentioned before, I can be a wee bit stubborn.

Now pardon me while I go clean up those gooey words. I got enough sleep last night, so I think I can slice and dice a little more efficiently now.

*TG and I had been up half the night at the ER with his dad. They thought it might be apendicitis, but it turned out not to be, and he's okay now. Whew!


Rachel said...

Hmm, I suppose my mind should have not gone to that particular place at the mention of tool maintenance either, but if I don't hold its hand tight enough it tends to wander.

Your analogies are always the best and so funny! I'm going to see if I can put the brain to the grindstone today and avoid the tomato goo.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

One thing I've found is that forced breaks are good for my writing as well. Like when I have to stop and do other stuff but I don't want to leave my writing. Yet when I come back to it, my mind is refreshed and working better.

charles frenzel said...

Let's have at least 3 comments after your formal declaration of dissatisfaction :)

Linda G. said...

Meadow -- Thanks! Good luck avoiding the goo. :)

Karen -- True, that. I've found it helpful at times to leave myself wanting more, as far as my writing is concerned. That way it stays in my mind and percolates, making me that much more productive when I can get back to it.

Charles -- The Waterbaron himself? Nice to see you here!

Thank you all for commenting & keeping my weekend post from being a total ghost town. :)

Donna Cummings said...

I never get to see the word "acuity" in use! I love it. :)

I completely agree with the brain needing "play dates". I think "butt outta chair" is JUST as important as "butt in chair". After all, the brain never gets a day off! It needs to have something relaxing and fun too. :)

Linda G. said...

Donna -- Sometimes I am even known to use the word "albeit"--albeit rarely. Do you like that one, too? Personally, I love it.

And I totally agree on "butt outta chair"--it is every bit as essential. In fact, most of my plot ideas come when I'm doing butt-outta-chair stuff.

Thanks for stopping by! :)