Somebody said that once – somebody famous who is published and maybe a little self-righteous. Every day, these types of writers wake up at ungodly o’clock and write for several hours, eat lunch and spend time in their garden, then write again until dinnertime. These writers believe in process; they believe that plugging away at it will yield the results they desire. They are disciplined. They are also often incredibly privileged – that is, they write every day because they can.
For every one of these regimented-type writers, there is another, different kind: the writer who is driven by a singular idea that gnaws at them. They tap it out at odd hours in between work and life – sometimes late at night, sometimes in the morning, or maybe just on the weekends. They are waitresses, baristas, lawyers. They are often tired and creatively spent from another area of their life – job, kids, spouse, parents, financial worries. They eschew books about writing and writing process because process isn’t what drives them. They smoke too much or drink too much or Diet Coke too much. When they finally hammer it all out, they sit back, bleary-eyed but elated. They wonder what they will write next, wonder when the next idea will hit.
Both types of writers can and do find success. Only one usually tells others how to write.
In case you couldn’t guess, I’m the latter type of writer. I have a “terrible” writing process. I usually only write when I have an idea or something to say. I don’t do writing exercises, nor do I try brainstorm activities if I’m stuck. I simply stop writing and wait, giving my brain time. Apart from this blog, it means I sometimes stop writing creatively for weeks at a time. Sometimes months.
For this blog, I sometimes don’t have an idea until Sunday morning. (My posts are due on Sunday. To give you a brief history: I used to be an A+ student, and I never procrastinated. If I were a student today, I would be the class clown who “shows potential.”) To be fair, I’m usually thinking about the blog and what to say all throughout the week. And sometimes I get lucky and land on something early. Sometimes not. I keep a list of a dozen or so ideas in a folder on my computer, but they may not always feel right in the moment. Or maybe I just don’t want to write about one of those topics that day. Or maybe I need more time to address a topic than I have to give on any given weekend. And sometimes, I get jealous and guarded and protective of my time, and I just want my weekends to be lazy.
I was thinking about this issue while doing laundry this afternoon. The laundry machines are in the basement of my building, and I live on an upper floor. I was wondering about what to write, thinking about one of the topics I had already listed in the folder on my computer, and wondering how I might say it. And honestly: I wasn’t feeling anything in particular. So I threw the dark laundry into the dryer and stepped into the elevator, annoyed with myself. I pushed my floor number.
And nothing happened.
I pushed the floor number again. Still, nothing.
I stared at the button panel, as though a threatening glance might motivate it. I pushed all the buttons. Its silence mocked me.
OK, fine, I thought. I’ll get out and take the stairs.
I reached for the door. It wouldn’t give – not an inch. I threw my body against it. Nothing, again.
Folks, I was stuck on the elevator. In the basement, where no one would hear me shout. No escape, no way to go up or get out. And I’m a touch claustrophobic.
There is no AC in the elevator, either, so, coupled with a spreading panic, I began to sweat. Which makes trying to open an elevator door even harder. Apparently opening an elevator door from the inside is made difficult on purpose so you don’t open it while in the lift and fall down the elevator shaft. I will likely appreciate this after some time has passed.
I hit the alarm button three times. It shot out a high-pitched bell sound. But who was going to hear that? Is there a department at the police station linked to elevator alarm buttons, dedicated to rescuing people only slightly inconvenienced and in no physical harm? The “The Glasses Are On Your Head, Stupid” Department, maybe?
I decided not to move, to stop hitting the alarm button. I did nothing for a full minute. I thought of re-telling this story to my grandchildren, ending the story a different way each time: and then I punched a hole in the ceiling and climbed out; and then I heard voices and started shouting; and then I kicked the door down; and then a leprechaun appeared and showed me a tunnel out; and then I lived in that elevator for two years and paid very little rent; and then it simply just started working again.
The ending. What was the ending I wanted here? I would start there.
Through the fog of panic, a tiny voice said, “Now you have a blog post. You also have your cell phone on you.” My brain thinks about writing first, then practicality. And in my panic, I had forgotten that I had my cell phone. It had no reception, but I tried it anyway.
I called my husband, who was upstairs, blissfully unaware that his wife was sweating in a box several floors below him. He called the super and then put on his shoes to come downstairs.
“Erin?” the super said, now standing outside the elevator door. I could see him through a small square in the door.
“Yes! I’m here! Oh thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“No problem. It’s just this outside door. It’s stuck.”
I think I smirked. You too, door?
“I’m just going to shove it all the way closed and then the elevator will move. Give me a minute.”
As the elevator started moving, I began breathing again.
And here I am, alive and well. The laundry is even finished, too. I don’t know what lesson to take from this regarding writing process. Maybe it’s that in moments of being stuck, think of the ending. Think of the ways in which you will tell the story, and let the solution come from hindsight. Or maybe it’s to always use your own life as fodder. Or maybe it’s that you should call upon others to bounce ideas around. Or maybe it’s that we need to finish another thought or project or idea, like closing the door, before we can move on to the next. Or maybe it’s to listen to your inner voice. Or maybe it’s to do nothing but give it time.
But I’m definitely taking the stairs next time.