Traveling the Travails: The Decimation of a Writing Routine

I’ve blogged before that as a traveler, I have much to learn. Not just the mechanics of how to take care of myself while on the road, but more importantly, in maintaining a proper mindset. By nature, I prefer the stability of a regular, non-traveling routine – get up early to write, commute to work, exercise, head home for (chaotic) family time, watch TV, read, go to sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Routine gives my creativity a place to return to; structure gives my imagination a place to ground itself.

In other words, I’ve attempted--however poorly I may have executed it--to live Gustav Flaubert’s quote: ‘Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so you may be violent and original in your work.’

(Note: I make a terrible bourgeois.)

So I’ve carved what we’ll call my Flaubert-ality into the canals of my brain, the tissue of my body, to such a successful degree that I think if I were to die this moment, my body would still shuffle onward, hitting all the points of my schedule perfectly. Triumph!

And now, of course, this is changing.

With my recent job switch, I’m now traveling on a regular basis (this is countered by my now being able to work from home when I’m home, which is another future area of adjustment). The travel, which will likely be weekly or bi-weekly air travel, is disruptive to all levels of my being all at once. There’s the time away from family, the effects of sleeplessness on inferior beds, there’s the impact on diet, there’s the inactivity and hours of sitting and talking.

Then there’s the loss of a defined writing time.

Like almost everything else with me, it comes back to my attitude, to my accepting what is over what I want or need it to be. Where once I would have railed against the torpedo that just exploded my meticulously-honed Flaubert-ality, I’ve decided to embrace this new challenge to my artistic existence. Traveling, and how one travels, is as much a mirror of how we wander this life as our creative or spiritual activities are. If I’m a terrible traveler (which if I’m honest is a fairly apt description) it’s because I allow circumstances beyond myself, circumstances that I ultimately can’t control, to disrupt my mindset.

Rather than despair, which would have been my reaction even a few years ago, I’m leveraging the factors playing in my favor to keep on my writing schedule so that I can get my next novel written. There’s technology, for one, which allows me to access my works in progress from wherever I may be. (Thank you Google Docs and/or Windows 360.) There’s the more fluid non-work time, and although I doubt that I can actually write in the evenings wherever I may be staying, I can at least read and research and otherwise prepare for the next morning’s writing session.

I’ve devoted my post-college years to controlling the activities and relationships surrounding my creative endeavors in the false belief that doing so would somehow protect my art-making time. This didn’t accomplish what I wanted. There’s no way to shield a creative act from the world in which it is made or from the circumstances that gestated it.

What of my lovely Flaubert-ality? What of being regular and orderly? I don’t know, but perhaps discipline—getting words onto the page—has less to do with being regular and orderly, and more to do with how well you travel.

Work in Progress

I tweeted earlier this week that, as I’m drafting character-sketches for my new novel, one of my main characters decided to switch genders from male to female. Discovery is one of the wondrous aspects of drafting, probably the most exciting element of writing fiction, and if you open yourself to the process, you go from active agent to slack-jawed scribe - taking dictation from the book itself.

We are here to serve the work, after all. Getting ourselves out of the way is as essential as it is difficult.

This particular character’s gender transformation upends my entire plot, and with it, the novel itself. Years of planning (and by planning I mean years of note-taking and rigorous reading and staring at walls) just went to shit.

And yet, the change probably saved the novel.

It’s not that the novel was going to suck, exactly, (probably, hopefully) but having written my share of tomes that I then stuffed into some desolate dresser drawer, I’ve acquired a feel for plot threads that are going to blaze versus those that are mere embers. With a single gender switch, I’ve found a conflagrant trail that will illuminate any and all future narratives involving these characters.

Of course I’m wholly and utterly unprepared. I’ve got nothing to back up this change; I’m having to re-create a history, re-imagine connections between the other characters, rethink the MacGuffin. All of it. Back to the proverbial drawing board. Back to the start. Begin again.

Once, I would have fought this change. Once I would have ignored what my character wanted to be and imprisoned everyone inside my doomed plan. The plan was all that mattered because it was the plan, because it was my plan. Somehow, against the backdrop of having failed many, many times, at many, many endeavors, I’ve finally learned that I should listen to my characters.

Listen. Adapt. Serve the story. That’s the work in progress here.