There Is Desire In This Work

a bit about process

I guess people like process. The path of arrival to a place. This is something I obsessed about when I dreamed of being A Writer, whatever that really means in the material sense. How do people do this work? What is their approach? What magic do they conjure and what devils have they dealt or danced with to make the words and work materialize? I am haunted by how-tos on making the abstract come together, how to make words become paragraphs, become pages, arrive in bound copies available for sale in malls, brick-and-mortars and mid-size airports.

But I’m doing it, right now I am in the midst of process and let me tell you that whatever glamor you perceive to be true is simply your brain constructing gates and walls to keep you on the other side wondering about the particular shade of green staining the grass.

On the weekend I printed out the rough draft of my forthcoming book The Dad Rock That Made Me a Woman, available in the future from the American Music Series at the University of Texas Press. I printed it partly so I can go through, read it all again and make notes with a fine tip red pen in all the places I can see that need them. Notes that say things like [spelling] and [what the fuck].  Sometimes it’s just a doodle of a hot dog wearing a cowboy hat.

I don’t know why exactly. Just funny to think of a hot dog not only needing a hat, but being particular about it.

More than anything I printed it to remind me that this is possible. That I could make words become paragraphs and then pages.

Now I am taking a break from it, letting my brain reset and using this time to work through the last bit of the rough draft of my novel, Girls Of Summer (a queer love story that takes place around the Vans Warped Tour at the Calgary Speedway in 2001).

So let me tell you a bit about my process.

I’m an early riser. I tell people this is because for close to two decades I had to wake up early to work in construction. And that is certainly partly true. My body has this natural alarm clock, embedded somewhere inside where I may never find it, that turns all the lights inside of me at around 4 or 5 am. This is a trick I learned from my dad but never fully tamed. He swears that when he goes to bed at night he imagines the time he needs to wake up and his brain takes that, files it in the appropriate place and the next morning he rises exactly then. I tell people this is why I wake up early but honestly, hand to God, I kind of just like waking up early.

The morning is quiet and I have rituals here that are just for me. I wake up. I start the coffee maker. I take Bowie for a walk around the block and I listen to a podcast or music that I know will make me cry and maybe, often, that’s the point. I don’t check the news or email or anything. All things can wait. When we get back home I feed all the pets in order; Bowie, then Winona, Ramona and finally our fish Bill. I pour two mugs of coffee, one for Lysh and then one for me and I leave Lysh’s on her bedside table that will likely be medium-warm by the time she wakes up to drink it. I sit on the couch with Winona and guard her while she eats, partially to make sure she eats all her food and partially because it’s just nice to sit with her. I don’t turn on many lights, I keep all things dim and salm. I don’t look at my phone other than to change podcast episodes or tracks. Lately I’ve been leaving my phone charging on my desk at night even, less distractions in bed and in all places.

By 6 at the latest I sit at my desk. I turn on the light. I take my ADHD medication and open Scrivener and I write until I can’t anymore.

Most people can’t write with music, and I hear you. But until the meds kick in I find it helps and lately I’ve been using music videos to help me find my rhythm in the morning. A live video of TV On The Radio playing “Wolf Like Me” on Letterman in 2011, “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups, “Silver Spoon”, from Sadevillain (an MF DOOM Sade mashup album).

I do this every day, and now I’ve come to rely on it. This is the addict in me talking, the part of me that craves a ritual, some order of events to satiate an anxious mind eager to feel something, to see it coming and to know how it will feel. Never as good as I believe it can be but looking forward to it all the same. There is desire in all of this, desire is not always perfect or clean but it is always there.

There is desire in this work. I wanted so badly to feel like I was a Writer, to be able to tell people I was in casual conversation or list it in my bio. Being a writer felt like something I had to earn, and once I did I feel like it’s something I now have to prove. People with more established careers talk about craft and structure and my imposter syndrome enters the chat, points at all their success and critical favors and tells the worst impulses within me that I will never achieve such great heights.

Every morning I move through my little ritual.

Some mornings it feels great, and my feet slide through all the hours after I’m done as if they’ve been given dominion over the field and sky. Other mornings it is harrowing, a weight on the soul that might never lift and I wonder if I was ever good at this to begin with.

But every day I return to it.

I think about something I’m sure plenty of writers have said, in my mind I attribute it to Rax King but it honestly could have been anyone. To be a writer you have to write. That’s all it asks of you. If you want to write you have to do it consistently, build habits out of it, build craft and structure. Even if it looks like chaos, even if and when it is unbelievable.

I lost a months worth on my books due to a cloud sync error and for a minute I thought my career was over before it ever really began but with process and the way my brain has come to crave it I got through the hard and painful parts of losing so many words. I built new ones in their names and memories.

People ask me how I can wake up so early and work and I tell them it’s only because I paid for YouTube premium which is at least kind of true. Pay for YouTube Premium if you plan to use a lot of Youtube otherwise you get a LOT of ads for alt-right media. I can work like this because there is something in me that needs to, that craves it. There is desire here, and that desire leads me to wake up early and sit and write and I have never regretted it. I am glad that I found a rhythm that took so long to arrive at.

Everyone will have their own. One woman’s order is anothers chaos. You cannot look at how I operate, how anyone operates, and replicate any degree of success or achievement. You will find your own rhythm, we all find our own dancing feet once we decide to meet the floor. All I can say, the best I can offer, is to find what desire is there to seek your own rituals. It will never be perfect, it will not always feel good, but when it does it will carry you for a thousand days, and when it doesn’t you might believe that it is only hard right now, tomorrow will be better.

The addict part of my brain tells me there will always be tomorrow to try again.

I know people like process because I like process, and I see people write and talk and ask about how to do this and there simply is no one true way of knowing other than to simply do it. My friend Ivan Coyote, a beautiful writer who should already be present on your shelves and reading lists, once told me it’s like playing an instrument. You have to make a practice out of practice. Work at it every day. Some days you will feel like you’re mastering it and others you may stumble and worry that your fingers have lost the magic they once deftly conjured.

All you can do is keep working, and trust that someday you will look back at a stack of paper on your desk with a hot dog drawn in the margins by tired hands and remember; all that process can do is help you find a pathway to a place where you can hold success in your hands and know all it took was the desire to get here.