I’ve always admired and envied people who take a specific passion and make it their life’s work. I wonder how they can take such drive and create masterpieces out of it. Pink Floyd, Stephen King, Picasso, Einstein—they all had one outcome in mind and went with it no matter what the outcome. They would start and finish at least one great work. That is what I see in great literary works and great literary work. I used to wonder how anyone could be so inspired and get it all done. That is, until I played music, which would later transfer over to writing.
I was in a band for just under a year when I was 25. We would write music in my friend’s basement for about three hours, three to four nights a week. Writing music was usually preceded by a bout of procrastination. We would joke, talk about our day, complain about something, tune instruments— anything but write music. Creating something was terror. Maybe we were afraid of what would come out of us. Eventually we sucked it up and started writing. And what came out sounded awful, at first.
We understood something about writing music. Our minds can’t get into the groove of writing without that first half hour of grind—a half hour of pain and misery. What are we going to write? After a half hour of trying to make our instruments sound like we knew what we were doing, something clicked. That half hour was what it took to leave our creative inhibitions and write something thought might not have sounded perfect and polished (if there is such a thing as perfect music), but it certainly wasn’t trite or hack music. It was ours. And all we had to do was start.
The band broke up in 2009, but that one lesson stuck—that I could learn something artistic very fast, and get into an artistic mode if I just work with if for about a half hour. That’s how long it takes. That’s the important number—the threshold. I would take up writing for a few weeks. I had no idea what to write, so I picked up a couple of writing books and read a few blogs, many of which suggested a number of words to put on paper each day ranging from 300 into the thousands. At the time the numbers seemed arbitrary. But each writer has his or her own methods as I developed my method. So I set a number: 1,000. Every day I set out to put a thousand words into a Word or WordPress file every day, and it was excruciating up to a point—that point. I never figured out the number of words it took. I quit, but there was a point in word count or in time in which I was no longer dreading the blank page. I enjoyed writing. It was like the music. Once I got into creative mode, I didn’t want to stop. Even hunger and bathroom breaks were a burden.
During my short stint with writing, I do remember a lot of vague feelings and poor style. If I could find some of my writing, I might cringe at my mid-20s angst at nothing or lack of clarity and solutions in my writing. No matter. The point was that as long as I stuck to a daily regimen for that half hour (or maybe it was about 400 or 500 words) I would enjoy the writing. All those wasted years of copping out of practice or quitting something because it got hard could have been avoided. I could have been pro if I had just figured out what most creative writers and professional musicians practiced: inspiration doesn’t happen to anyone. You have to grind through the devil of creativity: procrastination.
So I figured out my method: write for about a half hour. Write anything. Write gibberish. Then I’ll hit that spot, and the pen or the piano will seem to play itself.