The Question... and The Answer... by Tony Daniel
I love to be asked, “How do you write?”
I mean, it’s a perfect set-up question to who-knows-how many great one-liners. It also hits me, though, as a question someone asks when they have been told “how to write” and it doesn’t work for them.
Folks hate it when they ask a question and the answer they get is another question, but, in this case, it almost demands a question back.
“How do you write?
“Well, how do you want to write?”
I’ll be the first one to tell you, I am not the person to ask when it comes to questions about rules. Long ago, I found that rules are, for the most part, more like suggestions to me. If someone tells me absolutely, positively, do not do something, you can bet your last dollar that I will be the one to try it, just to see what happens.
The same is true for me when it comes to writing. For years, I have been reading books about writing, how to write, why to write, when to write. How to write a novel in thirty days, how to write a novel from the center and work to both ends, how to write a book by starting at the end and working backwards. You name it, I have heard it. Don’t get me wrong, now. If you have a method for creating that works for you, do not change it in any way! I am a firm believer in the old standard, “If it feels good, go with it.”
That old standard was the basic set-up for my first marriage, but I digress…
How do I write? I just sit down at the keyboard and start banging. Yes, it’s that easy. Every day, I sit down, and I just start free-writing. Whatever pops into my head, I don’t let it linger – I ship the thought down to the fingers and let it hit the “paper,” so to speak. It doesn’t matter if it makes any sense, it’s just a flood from the stream of consciousness that pours out of my head. Once all that is clear and empty, it leaves plenty of room for more focused thoughts. Most importantly, though, I never just delete any of that stuff – I save it and read back over it at the end of the day, because you never know what nuggets of gold were buried under all the mud from the mine.
All that being said, let me make this known – I cannot… cannot… work in silence. Silence drives me nuts. All the “how-to” books will make it abundantly clear that your workspace should be ‘clear of any sort of distraction, be it a television, a radio, a stereo, or any other sort of interference with the clear train of thought.”
Yeah, that dog don’t hunt, as my grandfather used to say…
I have music playlists for writing. Depending on where I want to go with the day’s work, I have playlists that are high energy, some that are a slow, easy groove, and some that are a good rollercoaster mix of both. I set my own energy level to the music and let it fly. And I play it loud. Loud enough to shake the windows? Sometimes …. Other times, it is just barely audible, like white noise. But it works. I let the music drive the machine while I navigate the streets and alleyways to get where I want to go.
Here’s the kicker, though. I also have movies playing throughout the day. If you know me at all, this should not be a surprise. My self-styled addiction to all things cinema is well-known. I have a sign in my office that says, “I speak three languages – English, sarcasm, and movie quotes.” A truer statement about me has yet to be written.
My reasoning for having movies playing is not for entertainment’s sake. My worship of all things movie has allowed my almost-eidetic brain to memorize many movies, down to the sound effects and words being spoken on the screen. People refuse to watch Casablanca, Star Wars, The Godfather, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence with me because I will quote every line about five seconds before they are said onscreen, and make every gunshot, laser blast, or explosion just before they happen. So why keep such an “obvious distraction” going while I am trying to create something else?
They are clocks. It’s that easy. I don’t keep a clock on my desk because it’s too easy to glance over and think, “Jeez, I’m wasting time,” or “Lord, it’s only been an hour?”
But, let me put The Godfather in the Blu-Ray player and start writing. I don’t have to look at a clock. Michael shoots Tattaglia and the cop in the restaurant? I’m about ninety minutes in. Horse head in the bed? Only 45 minutes in. Sonny gets gunned down at the toll booth? Two hours, seventeen minutes in. All I must do is take a moment to listen to whatever movie is on the screen behind me, and I can set my mental clock for a while. Added bonus? It is a lot of fun making all the machine gun sounds while you work, but you do end up having to wipe the screen off at some point.
So, curiosity begs me ask – am I the only one who has these quirks about how they want their environment to be while they write? Surely, I am not the only one who writes to music, but do you prefer the solemnity of classical music, or do you go for AC/DC’s "Highway to Hell" on a loop for three hours? Do you like nightclub jazz? Vegas Rat Pack club music? Let me know! I could use some new playlists…