Much ado about nothing – Ostensibly, I write in my journal here at Liminality when two conditions are met: a) I have something to write about and b) I have the time to write it. Right off the bat, though, it’s pretty easy to see that this is a fallacy perpetrated by some shadowy, sinister individual (most likely me). For one, I don’t really have anything to write about today, except for the fact that I don’t really have anything to write about. Technically, this is “metawriting”—writing about writing about something—rather than actual writing. (I happen to be quite good at this, but that’s beside the point right now.)
Secondly, it is common knowledge that we make time for things that are important to us. In other words, unless I happen to be on a fishing trawler battling a raging storm off the Cape of Good Hope, or working twenty-hour shifts in an emergency room during a natural disaster, or fleeing to an undisclosed location in South America to avoid having to stand trial for my war crimes, I most likely have the time to write a journal entry. The question is whether or not I will make the time.
So, I have shown that the first of my conditions does not apply merely by writing this entry (if I wanted to take a more positive approach to this, I could say that I can always think of something to write, leaving me with the same logic that discounted the second condition). The second condition was nothing more than smoke and mirrors from the very start. Where does this leave me? Well, thanks to copious amounts of C.S.I. intake, I know that the three avenues of investigation into criminal activity are means, motive, and opportunity. Incidentally, I’ve always been rather disappointed that they couldn’t find an “m” word for opportunity. Then they could have called it “The Three Ms.” As it is, the best I can come up with is MOM, which is entirely unsatisfying and not a little disturbing.
Anyway, I can draw loose correlations between my two conditions and two parts of MOM: having time would be having the opportunity to write, and having something to write about is more or less having the means to write (it’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but bear with me). That leaves one element: motive, or to put it in more writing-friendly terms, motivation. And since I’ve already discounted the other two conditions, it would appear that motivation is the sole deciding factor in determining when I write. When I am motivated, I write. When I am not motivated, I mope about not being able to write. It is that simple.
The answer to these journal droughts would appear to be equally simple: all I have to do is figure out how to motivate myself. Kind of like how all I have to do to ensure peace in the Middle East is make Israelis and Arabs forget their differences and be friends. Except sometimes I think that achieving peace in the Middle East might be the easier of the two.
David and I have been discussing our writing (fiction) lately, and when I mentioned my struggles with my fiction he suggested I try the blank screen approach. Basically, the idea is to set aside a certain amount of time for writing, even if all you do is stare at a blank screen (or blank piece of paper, for those of you who still use... um, those things, you know, where the ink comes out of the tip).
So last night I tried it. I fired up Word and sat there staring at the blank screen for a few moments. The problem is that I have two monitors, so while I stared at the blank screen on the left, I was typing an e-mail to David on the right, telling him about how I was staring at a blank screen. I tell you, if there were to ever be a death by irony, I would without a doubt be the first victim.
I actually did get something accomplished writing-wise. After I sent off the e-mail I hunkered down and stared at the blank screen until thoughts began coalescing in my head. After another few minutes they had finally formed and began to trickle down into my neck, across into my shoulders, and then down my arms and into my fingers, which began to attack my keyboard without warning. Surprisingly enough, I did end up with something interesting. All in all, I would have to say the exercise was a success.
Nonetheless, I cannot hide the fact that I have been feeling terribly uninspired this week. Not just uninspired, but uncreative, which is not a good thing, since what I do for a living (translation) does require a good amount of creativity. It hasn’t been a continuous slump, though, so I decided to look at what factors might be contributing to this lack of creative energy.
The answer was pretty obvious: it’s my schedule. My wife teaches Korean at a language school in downtown Seoul, and when she leaves early in the morning I generally drive her to the bus stop in town and then go to the health club. On days when she doesn’t have morning classes she will usually take the car herself later on, park in town, and then ride the bus in. If I am feeling motivated I will get up and head out to the health club at approximately the same time as I would if she had a morning class.
This week (and for the rest of June, in fact), my wife only had morning classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Monday I was too tired to get up early, and Wednesday I had some work that I had to get done early and send out. By the time I got it finished it was too late to go out to the health club. Needless to say, on Monday and Wednesday I was largely unproductive, even though I technically could have started work earlier (because I didn’t go to the health club). I wasn’t able to start working until my wife left, and when she did leave the hours just seemed to slip by and I was getting very little work done. It was terribly frustrating, in the same way that hearing about people starving in Africa is frustrating—yeah, it’s vaguely disturbing, but you just really can’t be bothered to do anything about it (OK, maybe that’s cynical, but tell me it’s not true most of the time).
Tuesday and Thursday (yesterday, that is), though, were different. We left the house at 6:30, drove into town, I dropped my wife off, and then got to the health club by 7:00. I exercised for about an hour, showered, and was home by 9:00. I ate breakfast, checked e-mail, visited my daily sites on the Internet, chatted with friends, and then started working at about 10:00 (or shortly thereafter). On both days I managed to get a good amount of work done.
My wife thinks that she is a distraction, and blames herself for the fact that I rarely get any work done when she is home. She is a distraction, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s her fault. Let’s face it—when you don’t want to work, pretty much anything can be a valid distraction. “Man, I really need to get this done.... Oh look, the grass is growing! I’d better go check that out.” Using my wife as an excuse would be equally as lame.
There are two things that are different about morning class days: I get up early and I exercise. I think both things play a part in this. I think the exercise helps clear my mind, wake me up, and get me going for the day. Like most people, I feel good after I exercise. I feel motivated. I feel like I could kick down a warehouse door and take out a horde of bad guys single-handedly. Fortunately for me, there are no warehouses full of bad guys in my area (that I know of, at least). Adrenalin can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not the best enhancer of rational thought. Anyway, exercise gets me pumped, and I feel like I can take on anything, even work.
Also, as frightening as it may be to admit it, I think I might actually be a morning person. I read somewhere that there’s really no such thing as “morning people” and “night people,” and that you can condition your body to either schedule. Maybe that’s true, but I have found that I do my best creative work from late morning to noon or so. And if I get a good start in the morning, I can usually keep it going throughout the day, so the morning is the key for me.
When I was at university, I was convinced that I was a night person. All university students, in fact, are convinced that they are night people (which would lend credence to the conditioning theory). I can remember the waning hours of all-nighters when the dreaded gray light of predawn would begin to seep in through the window. How I hated that light; how I hated the thought that the night was over and I had no choice but to face the fact that it was a new day. When, after much mucking about below the horizon, the sun finally showed it’s face, I would throw up my arms like the old movie vampires, waiting to be turned to dust. Alas, fate was never so kind.
In my junior year I had a three-hour creative writing seminar on Thursday afternoon. Each week we had to submit a new short story, and when our number came up we had to share that story with the group. Had I been responsible, I would have worked on those short stories throughout the week. Had I done so I could have completed them with ease. As you have probably already guessed, this is not what I did.
What I did was go out with my friends on Wednesday night and come home at around two o’clock. Being the middle of the week, most normal people went to bed around that time or shortly after. That was when I sat down in front of my computer and began to write my short story for the week. I would often write in a stupor, and there were even times when I fell asleep momentarily and awoke to discover that I had continued typing briefly while asleep. It was far more common to wake up and find page after page of a single letter scrolling down the screen.
Occasionally I came up with a gem. I once wrote a ghost story that haunted me for years, a story that I doubt I would have been able to write during the day. Many famous authors have written under the influence of one substance or another—at university, sleep deprivation was my drug. Unfortunately, most of what I produced under the influence of this drug fared very poorly when it saw the light of day. Barring the ghost story and maybe one other piece, my all-night writing sessions produced little more than agitated drivel.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from university and came to Korea that I realized some people woke up with the sun rather than hid under the covers when it rose. My father, of course, like most hard-working men, had been doing this for years, but I never really appreciated that fact. Then I got a job that required me to leave my house while it was still dark, and morning was no longer an abstract concept for me.
I no longer have that job, and all my work is done from home now, but I have realized that I actually do feel more creative in the morning than at night. I can still stay up fairly late (“fairly late” for me means past midnight) if I get involved in something, but there comes a point where my brain just shuts down. “You can stay up as late as you want,” says my brain, “as long as you don’t expect me to do anything.” Once I reach that point, trying to do anything creative is like trying to squeeze water out of stones.
Am I a morning person? Is there even such a thing as a morning person? I don’t know. But I do know what works for me, and hopefully I can motivate myself to keep a regular schedule this month and crank up the productivity. I’ve got my usual work, of course, plus a one-month project that will begin on the 20th, so it’s really coming up on nose-to-the-grindstone time.
Hopefully as I become more productive and learn to manage my time better I’ll be able to write more here and do some real work on my fiction. I suppose that will be the real litmus test, since that will come after my work for the day is done. Wish me luck.