The Muses. So vital. I've oft considered erecting a shrine to them, but then Los Angeles has enough already. I'm a member of a bunch, like The Broad, LACMA, The Getty Villa. Those will do in a pinch.
I can't say I have any particular tricks. I meditate and chant daily, but I do that regardless of my writing tasks. I wish I had a cool object or activity to help trigger the state of the groove. Taking a bath gets me clean. Going for long walks don't really help. Drinking in bars and getting into arguments has never been my thing.
For me, writing is often like boxing. If you want to fight, and you're angry enough, you can find a scrap wherever you look. I will say that I've come to understand a few conditions I can set to make the writing experience really good, on the level of rhapsody.
1. Mundane tasks at odd hours almost always get me going. My debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, launches on Monday and to help it on its way, I'm roadtripping across Calfornia this weekend. Can't leave dirty dishes in the sink, so I get up yesterday at 5 am to clean the kitchen. By 7 am I had a new first chapter to my debut's follow-up. I think that may come from my old stand-up days, when, although there's video evidence to the contrary, I felt so much funnier when I had to fight through the frustrations of dead-end day jobs. When I'm really feeling it, I don't even use the dishwasher.
2. Drinking makes a nice reward, especially after getting through a marathon session of good work. Accepting this reward makes me feel good enough to wake up and do it all over again the next day. This works when I'm on self-imposed sequesters/retreats. Thing is, drinking while writing doesn't help me get words on the page in abundance. I'll drop some good lines, maybe a few paragraphs, but if I had a word count goal, it's out the window. A sip of fine spirits has, on occasion, helped me ease into editing, but only in that it deadened the pain of choosing which darlings to sacrifice. Now that I have more practical experience, the hangovers aren't really worth it.
3. Writing is always with me, even when I'm in more intimate situations. I was at a funeral recently and excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned, I had five hundred words of the next chapter solid and a plot gap filled. I have, on a few occasions, rolled over after lovemaking, grabbed a pen, and scribbled something that became part of a masterpiece. Good lovin' will do that. I can't say I've ever put the game on pause, but I have banged out (haaaaaaa!) beautiful words when a lover has been—how should we say—collecting herself. Or snoring. Don't get me wrong. It isn't all abrupt and whatnot. I ain't Charles Bukowski. I got game. Joking aside, to submit myself to encounters that require me to be totally present for others stirs me in a manner that brings me back to center. Perhaps this is spending my gold. I don't think I should try to unpack that one.
4. I hear dialogue first in my heart, so when I'm awash in particularly strong emotions, it triggers writing. I get this way on many occasions. I have a weakness for my offspring, including my nephew and my grandchildren. I court the Muses by courting them. I'll make a lot of phone calls and text messages. Crack jokes with my son. Check in on my youngest daughter in her successes. Talk religion and politics with my eldest girl. Whatsapp to Germany and catch up with the son my brother gave me. Stare at the only photo of my mother I have. Before long, something to say will bubble up in my consciousness.
5. Sometimes I just have to take a while to get all my shit out. I can write half a novel in a month, then sit for two months just mulling it over, allowing life to take me on its ride. I open my experience to all the things that piss me off, lift me up, make me happy, strike me with sadness, or just remind me I'm mortal this time around. When I'm feeling myself enough, I read my work in progress straight through and pick up where I left off. There may be a few nights of solitary bourbon drinking and loud music playing in there. I may or may not wear clothes. I'm going to call this The Smokehouse Effect.
A dear friend of mine once advised me, "Be still to be moved." It's one of those pithy maxims that floored me as soon as I heard it. I immediately took it to heart, and it's always served me well. Perhaps that's the best way for me to gain the love and attention of The Muses. It's working thus far, anyhow.
The novel I've been discussing all this time is finally here. It's going for a good price, and the reviews are strong. If you'd like it for your TBR pile, you can find it here. It's distributed by Ingram and is also sold directly by Down & Out Books, so ask your local bookstores and libraries. Cross your fingers for me, and thank you for all the love and support that got me here.