Knowing that other authors have a few bad writing habits gives me the same sense of assurance I felt at eleven when I confessed to Father Wade that I’d cursed at my parents. I enunciated the word hoping to shock the good Father.
At the time, I thought D@#* was badass, but that was before the “F-word” became an indispensable part of my vocabulary.
My penance was to say ten or twelve Hail Marys. I felt comforted praying beside my fellow, sin-free classmates in front of the open-armed statue of the Virgin Mary—but I digress, because digression (and its partner procrastination) is one of my bad writing habits. Anyway, it makes me feel better to know that I’m not alone.
About a year ago, I read this article where a few well-known authors share the quirky habits that help them when they’re stuck. I suppose I could classify my habits in the same way. Digressing and procrastinating keep me from getting stuck—stuck in the chair writing my next novel, a blog, or an article, that is. I prefer not to think of mine as bad habits, but rather, as necessary habits badly timed.
1) I drink a lot of water. Not from the pitcher on my desk, but from the fridge, the bottled water stored in my car trunk, or better yet, a Diet Dr. Pepper (it has water in it!)from the deli around the corner. Then, there’s the ice, the lime, the special glass . . . and the hour that’s slipped by.
2) I have to finish, start or check on non-writing tasks RIGHT NOW before they slip my mind (when I had kids, I proudly called this multitasking). For example, while writing this blog I’ve stopped to call the pharmacy, vacuum the pistachio leavings from underneath my desk, chat with my mother about a friend’s funeral, loaded the washer and then the dryer. I read new emails, sent a few, and well, you get it.
3) I use too many placeholder words: “thing,” “that,” and “someone or something” believing the proper name of the thing will reveal itself to me, and I’ll replace thing with the right thing. I spend time browsing on line and flipping through my Roget’s for words to replace things, which isn't bad, but takes me to the “Land of Lost Time” in search of synonyms and things.
4) I heard the amazing Edward P. Jones say that he recorded, then looped, several songs and listened to them while he wrote. I program my TV for the same shows everyday: old movies, talk shows and yes, Nate Berkus. My very own loop of drama, gossip, and decorating tips. Not sure that’s the effect that Mr. Jones meant to inspire, but I sure know a lot about the Jersey Shore and the best color for a sofa.
These are not, by any means, my only bad writing habits. They’re all I’ll confess to. Some might argue they’re not “bad” at all. But they are—anything that takes me, or any other writer, away from writing, is not good.
At the end of confession, Father Wade always absolved my lightweight vulgarity (tame, compared to current-day song lyrics). Two weeks later, I’d step right back into that dark confessional and repeat the very same bad language I’d previously admitted to. Yet another ten or twelve Hail Marys, and all was forgiven.
Like my old days in the confessional, I want be absolved of my procrastination and distraction. From time to time I promise to stop, and I swear that I will after emails, Tweets, and, of course, more water. When I finally confront my doggone, blank computer screen, the room silent, thirst quenched, no thing in sight, the moment of truth arrives, like Hail Mary’s, to make me stick to my promise and I write, not as penance, but with joy.
I write, the computer not as fear-generating as the face of the Virgin. But eventually, I reach for the remote telling myself, I’ll take a quick minute to look up the name of a thing and while I have the time, I might as well go and take care of a few other things, and . . . get some more water.
Jacqueline Luckett's new novel, Passing Love, is the story of love, secrets and betrayal in the Paris of today and the jazz-fueled Paris of the 1950s.