My Elegant, Flawless Writer’s Process
Before I can begin, I must shoot three people: The Governor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Lao Tzu. All must be shot, or else hurled from a cliff. Sometimes I shoot them in the back of the head with a crossbow bolt. Sometimes I bodycheck them into the Grand Canyon. Or sometimes I just murmur to them like a stoned warlock, and they quiet down and turn to granite. They sit there leering at me for the duration. In any case, they must be dead as rusted, dusted doornails before I can begin. Their minds are all diseased, you see.
Don’t be overly concerned for them. They are immortal undead, which is to say, the governor is a werewolf, F. Scott is a vampire, and Lao Tzu — wait, maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t remember. The point is they never stay dead, which is why it’s necessary to go through this every time. Otherwise, their babbling would wreck the project. I wouldn’t get a stitch of work done.
I must have beer. I must have music. I must have IPA, a strong one, about 7.5 ABV, which is a lot, but who knows, I may not even drink it. I have it, that’s the point. Why? Because Hemingway. Because Kerouac. Because Bukowski. It doesn’t worry me. Or maybe it does, but not enough to forgo it. I crack my Little Sumpin’ Lagunitas IPA, and sit down on my bed, which is always neatly made. As soon as I get into position, it’s no longer neatly made, but that’s fine, because Bob Seger is singing “Night Moves.” Sometimes I just play “Night Moves” over and over for three thousand years, staring at my MacBook screen like an imbecile.
I must have T.S. Eliot’s Complete Poems & Plays within view, except when it’s not around.
I must have rock ‘n roll of some kind, except when I don’t. Bob Dylan. Bob Seger. Bobby Darin. Nina Simone.
Because really, I do most of my writing in silence, when I’m supposed to be meditating. There goes the music theory. If there is a pattern, it eludes me.
I’ve done most of my writing on silent retreats, where it’s strictly forbidden to write, especially the kinds of things I write.
Or I’ve done most of my writing loping down the Marina Del Rey Par Course, when I’m supposed to be concentrating on posture, precise placement of feet on the cool, starlit grass.
Or I do most of my writing when I’m supposed to be concentrating on what my fiancée is saying, but I can’t, because something she’s said has lit a fuse in my soul, so I get my iPhone out in the middle of her sentence, open up the Notes app, and start thumbing some brilliant idea into it. It’s usually not great, but if I don’t write it down, I’ll die. She appreciates my dilemma. She’s extremely patient with me.
It isn’t permissible for a Buddhist practitioner to interrupt his meditation to write down some random burst of poetry or quasi-psychological insight that’s just occurred to him, so I meditate with my journal nearby, and as soon as I think of something, I stop, and scribble it onto the page with my black, Extra Fine Point V5 Pilot pen. I’m a bad Buddhist and a bad person.
I’ve been trying to become a morning person for fifteen years. Nothing works. Without fail, I get a blast of mystical energy at 10:30pm, even if I’m bone tired. Suddenly, I want to dance in the moonlight, I want to yawp at the firmament. I want to write. I am Dionysus, I am Pan. In the morning, when it’s time to get up, I snuffle into my pillows and scrungle into my blankets like some hedonistic little varmint. I cannot get over this.
I guess I should get more regular about things, but I like to write when lightning strikes, which can happen at any instant.
I like to write in my bedroom, sitting on my bed, surrounded by the books I love, with Bob Seger playing. Or John Lennon, or Villagers, or Chopin, or Lucinda Williams, or Elvis.
If there is a pattern, I cannot discern it.
Sometimes I write on the scarred, stinking buses of the L.A. Metro system. Sometimes I write on posh Abbot Kinney in Venice. I get off my bike, take my phone out, and thumb away. Girls wearing sexy Cartier tops and $600 jeans walk by, so I completely forget what I’m doing.
I’m a disorganized person. I’m trying to like dial it in, but it’s not working.
Somehow, I manage to write things. Maybe I have more routines than I think I do. I don’t know.
I must be in my room, sealed away from everyone.
I must have someone there with me, or I can’t get anything done at all.
Here’s my process:
I’m lying on the cold, iron ground, and I see a lightning storm skittering behind a mountain somewhere. It’s Mordor, let’s say. It’s that weird lightning always glittering in the unnaturally dark clouds which swirl around the Great Eye of Sauron. I know that I must get to that Eye, that storm. However, unlike Frodo, I carry no magic ring, and no one has sent me. I’m just lying there on the cracked, frozen ground with both of my legs shattered. I’m determined, however, to get there. I don’t know why. Something about my childhood. Some unfinished business, some freakish longing. I try not to think about it, and commence dragging myself along by my fingernails. When they break, I use my teeth. I drag myself along the hideous, cracked earth with my teeth, like a mosquito trying to suck blood from the skull of a giant. After about twenty thousand years, I arrive at the base of the mountain. My teeth are gone. They’ve either worn away or fallen out, so I start wriggling my body like an eel, squirming against the cold broken crust, an unborn baby fighting through some black peristaltic canal. I do this for another aeon, until finally I am directly under the lightning storm, the Great Eye of Sauron. I am rather fatigued, so I just lie there, mostly dead. Then lightning rips the sky, and if I’m lucky, it sears a single word into my skin. It might be skitter or liver or lover or languish or dead or devil or awe or blood or jewel.
Actually, it’s not a word at all. It’s some incomprehensible glyph, a shapeless tattoo. It has no meaning to me. It’s an inchoate scar, a cosmic taser burn, an echo of a dream. I don’t know what it means, I just wear it, wriggling there in the strobing half-light. I don’t try to make any sense of it. My skin sizzles mutely.
Then I notice that a pale, half-starved little lunatic has followed me all this way, and he now starts trying to translate the glyph into English. I’m too tired to get my crossbow out and shoot him, so he keeps gibbering senselessly, my own personal Golem.
This whole thing goes on for eternity. The entire process of slithering toward the mountain and the lightning storm repeats endlessly. I’m a wormy Sisyphus, endlessly slithering, pushing the dense stone of my broken body across the wasteland, and positioning it under the lightning storm, over and over and over. Once every few millennia, a particularly blinding flash sears a particularly luminous mark into my skin, and I’ll be damned if that emaciated little wretch doesn’t work it out. The son of a gun figures out which word goes with it, and in his ineptitude and gibbering insanity, he takes out his black, Extra Fine Point V5 Pilot pen, and writes it down.