Hot Water

August 28th, 2007

I don’t know about other [tag]writers[/tag], but I get most of my really good ideas in the shower. There’s something about standing dead-center in a stream of hot water that dissolves blocks, brings characters to life, turns mental pictures into streams of words, and generally makes me feel as though there’s literally nothing I can’t write. Improve the opening of Dickens’ “Bleak House”? No problem.

The challenge is sustaining that feeling when I’m dry. I have actually leapt from the shower, wiping my hands frantically on a towel, and stood stark naked over my computer, banging away to get it all down before evaporation strikes. And usually, at least some wispy memories of the [tag]inspiration[/tag] remain an hour or two later (by which time I’m dressed), and that’s all it takes if I’m really working. Even if I get it wrong the first time, I can circle around it until I get it right, or at least rightish, and then I can move on, knowing I can come back to it tomorrow.

When I’m putting in really long writing days — say, 6-9 hours — I’m so clean I squeak. I do a lot of my writing in the Southeast Asian tropics, where frequent showers are a good idea (if not a necessity) anyway. But I rarely write at home. I like energy in the room, and people around when I work. If I need a face, I like being able just to look around and steal one. And there has to be coffee, essentially an endless supply of coffee, easily accessible. So, in [tag]Bangkok[/tag] or Southern China or [tag]Phnom Penh[/tag] or wherever else I am, I write mainly in [tag]coffee shops[/tag].

That’s great, except that most coffee shops don’t have showers, or if they do, they’re a carefully kept secret. So three or four times a day I have to save the document, cut off the computer, pack the bag, get into the car, go home, climb the stairs, get undressed, shower, get dressed, grab the bag, go back down the stairs, get back into the car . . .

That’s a lot of energy expended, energy that could probably produce two or three new characters, ten or twelve terrific pages, or even a better title. (More about titles in a later blog.) Still, once I’m set up in my booth again, with the computer open and a fresh cup of coffee sending up its little woo-woo wisps of steam, I’ve got lots of stuff to get onto the page. I can’t complain too much.

But the point is that there has to be some way to do this while remaining dry. In the bad old days, there were [tag]cigarettes[/tag]. Got [tag]writer’s block[/tag]? Go on remote control: Get the pack, pull out the little poisonous cylinder, put it into the mouth, find the lighter, flick it, check the flame, light the far end of the cigarette (remember, always the far end; with the mania for stupid instructions these days, I’m surprised cigarette packages don’t have a boldface warning; Do not light the end of the cigarette that is in your mouth), take a puff. Then I usually put it out really fast because the problem was solved. Like taking a shower, but faster and more likely to cause painful death.

But cigarettes are just a memory, along with a lot of other vices with a very short learning curve and (eventually) rapidly diminishing returns. What I have now are showers, and showers are a cumbersome way of coaxing inspiration. Not to mention that it’s hard to type when your fingertips are all puckered.

So I’m looking. Somewhere out there, there’s got to be a writer with a short-cut, or at least a more portable route to inspiration. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted, and if I wind up using your method, I’ll name a character after you in my next book. A nice character, too.

10 Responses to “Hot Water”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    I think you’re onto something Tim. My daughter has a shower radio. Why not a shower computer???

    Quick, someone call Steve Jobs!!! He’s always game for a trendy techy device.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I’d settle for a whiteboard or something that I could write on while it’s wet. It would be cheaper, and I wouldn’t have to learn a new operating system. Actually, my only problem with Macs is the missing right-hand mouse button. I’d buy one in a shot if they had two buttons under the touchpad instead of one.

  3. Dana King Says:

    I wish I had something better, but I do exactly the same thing. The solutions to most of my writing problems come while I’m taking my morning shower. I have also been known to take a shower of whatever duration is necessary when I’m stuck on something. I write almost exclusively at home, so I don;t have the problem of seeking showers in public places, which, as Senator Craig has shown, can be problematic.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    It must be nice to be able to write from home, Dana, but I can’t do it. Any time I get into trouble on the page, some household chore presents itself in a newly alluring light. Clean the drains? Sounds great! Go out and scoop the dog poop from the back yard? Ah, fresh air!

    So I can’t work at home, although sometimes when things get really dirty I’ll write there for a couple of days. I don’t get many pages done, but the place sparkles lie Tiffany’s.

  5. Antricia Tran Says:

    Maybe showering & getting very creative while there is a metaphor for you..of you relaxing your mental & emotional guard that you are able to produce more easily. So create a trigger that you can tell yourself you are relaxing & will allow ideas to come forth. If you can’t find that trigger, get a voice recorder (wrap it in a ziplock bag) & leave it in the shower. There’s a cheap Lil’ recorder at Bed Bath Beyond for you to experiment.

    I find that if I sit & wait, I am forcing ideas to come & most times they are shitty. But if I am busy with other things like showering, ideas & insights come at a rapid rate. It’s like looking at something at the corner of your eye instead of staring at the object if that makes sense.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Antricia — Will go to get the recorder at Bed, etc. — didn’t know anything like that existed. I’ll just hang it on the shower rod and use as needed. I agree completely with your observations about how it works — I especially like the idea of looking at something out of the corner of your eye instead of straight on.

    It’s an interesting paradox: for me, good ideas don’t arise frequently unless I’m working regularly, but I can’t force them. I just have to work long and often and remain open to inspiration or whatever it is.

    What’s your creative routine? I’m thinking about opening a new part of this site, in which other people — mainly writers, but also some painters and other kinds of artists — talk about how they work.

  7. Antricia Tran Says:

    Funny that you ask. I’m not fortunate as you to complete any books.

    Being dyslexic, I haven’t found how to go about writing & finishing on my own. But if I take a writing class at a college which costs too much, I am productive. Unfortunately, I can’t write a novel in a class & I so desperately want too. If anything just to cross it off my list & move on with my life. It so suck to find what you want to do with your life so early on. If anything, learning disability aside, I think too much & can’t let go of my consciousness. And by sitting & waiting for something to come, staring at it front & center, I have time to think of all that I am not able to do. So the only thing I know that works for me is too keep a recorder (cheap & expensive)& post it notes nearby. I have a ton of notes that I have thrown in a basket for me to eventually sort. I also find that going out on a drive on long stretch of highway with not a lot of traffic, with my mind occupied, ideas have come for me a lot easier. I also find opening my senses whether it is touch, smell, to feel (the melancholy of dark & dreary day) while making yourself occupied, brings things that I would have never thought it if I were to sit down & focus on an agenda.

    Some of these things have helped me. I just haven’t found a consistent way to do it. So I would probably never be the kind of person to sit down everyday to crank out something. I wish it could be that easy for me.

    I think the new section you will be adding would be a great idea & a great resource for others. If I am able to finish something, I would definitely like to return & respond.

    By the way, be aware that the lil recorder doesn’t record much (20 seconds) if you haven’t bought it. I take what I record, & the first chance I get, I write it on the post it notes.

    May I ask how do you organize your projects if you are working on more than one project at a time?

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Antricia —

    It sounds like you’ve got lots of ideas, but (like most people) you have trouble maintaining the daily commitment to sitting down and working with those ideas. I’d much rather be like you than to be a person with lots of discipline and no ideas.

    I honestly think that the hardest thing about writing for many people is managing the writing session — a daily or five-day-a-week commitment to sit in front of a keyboard until a minimum of 1000 (or 500, or 1,500) words have been produced. It has to take priority over everything else; it can’t be booted around because of other commitments or “emergencies” or phone calls or anything else.

    I’ve written a piece about this issue that will go up in the Writer’s Resources section sometime in the next week or two. Maybe it’ll be helpful. I wouldn’t worry about dyslexia; just get it down any old way and it can get fixed up later. The important thing is to get your imagination onto paper.

    When I’m working on more than one thing at a time, I do two things. First, I write them in different places. Second, I work on each of them every day at the same time. So project number one might get my attention from 10 AM to 1 PM at home, and project number two would occupy me from, say, 2 to 5 PM in a coffee house. It’s essential for me to pay a daily visit to whatever world I’m imagining, or it can go stale.

    Hope this helps. Write again if it doesn’t.

  9. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Re: Shower – I have a glass shower. How about writing on the glass with a sharpie? (Like the movie: A Beautiful Mind). It washes off. Just direct the spray away from the glass door. Or a shaving mirror that won’t cloud up. There are glass cleaners you can use to keep glass from fogging.

    Re: Mac and mouse buttons: Get a laser mouse and program the right button functions. When I got a MAC, I missed my right click capability until I figured out how to program the buttons. Yippie!

    Re: Creativity: OK – I admit this is bizarre, but it’s my last resort to break a block. I do my morning pages (a la Julia Cameron) no matter what time of day I begin writing. Then I immediately turn the page and do a writing exercise, usually something involving physical movement or activity (I call this one The Hummingbird: I imagine that I capture an idea by hopping on one foot on only the blue flowers on the carpet to catch the idea, then shake the idea up to my shoulder, down my arm, out my fingers, around my pen and out onto the page where I write in fragments — thoughts and single words only. Then the push words together until something gels and then sentences just appear on my page). I rarely know what’s coming out of the pen until I read it. Activities like this tickle a different part of my brain and force me to relinquish control of the MIGHTY PEN. They make me relax and laugh at myself – so I can move forward with the serious business of writing The Great American Novel.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Cynthia —

    I especially like the writing-block ritual — the part about capturing an idea and then moving to words, images, and sentence fragments. That sounds like a surefire way to get the engine going. When I have trouble with a scene, sometimes I’ll go over to the extra window (see the most recent post) and just type anything and attribute it to one of them. “Pygmies are taller than dwarfs,” Cynthia said, “and much more likly to vote Republican.” Then Howard (or whoever) will say, “You’re spending too much time with the Discover Channel,” and Cynthia will say whatever she says — and three or four lines later, they’re in the scene. Always.

    Amazing how you can kickstart the process.

    And thanks for the shower tips. As far as a Mac is concerned, maybe never. I’m too impatient to get the words on the page. I don’t want to have to mess around with the technology that allows me to do it.

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