I’m back in the saddle again — writing wise, that is, so it’s time to update this blog. (I’ve also changed the template, but I am not totally happy with it yet. Expect more changes in this area.)
I went looking to find the origin of ‘back in the saddle again’ and I discovered that it was originally applied to cowboys and jockeys returning to work after injury, and then became applied more broadly to anyone returning to work after an injury or absence.
I looked up its meaning online and was surprised to discover that according to the Urban Dictionary it also means “when you are back to doing what you do best.”
I like that idea.
I don’t know if writing is what I do best: I do know it is what I long to do best. I constantly struggle with not throwing something away the minute I write it. On my best days, I feel like a pass-through — one of those openings between a kitchen and a dining room. The food is in the kitchen. There’s chopping and mixing and seasoning and heat applied to it and voila! Dishes are handed through the pass-through and a meal appears on the table: hot, fragrant, and delicious.
The process that the food travels through to become dinner is the way writing works for me. When I sit down to write, sometimes I have an idea. Sometimes I don’t. I sit down. I have thoughts. Sometimes they are quite specific thoughts, particularly if I have an assignment. Sometimes I walk around and think. Sometimes I don’t even have to think. I just type. I am the pass-through. The writing happens at the keyboard.
When my work is going well, I don’t understand how my thoughts go from my brain to my fingers as they type, but they do. It’s as if I am not there. It’s intensely satisfying. Sometimes it’s pleasurable — it’s an overwhelming relief when I can get what I am thinking transferred from my head to paper.
That’s when the work is going well.
When the work is not going well, it’s like a bad card trick. “Pick a card, any card.” I pick them all and every single one is the wrong card.
That’s when I pull every trick I’ve ever heard of out of my writing bag. If I’m stuck and I am writing in longhand, I switch pens. Sometimes the color of the ink or the feel of the nib will awaken my imagination. If I am working on fiction, I just ask, “and then?” and make myself write that down — no matter how unlikely. I do this over and over and over, until I get the requisite number of words (1667 on my novel). If I am writing non-fiction (850 for an Op-Ed; 650 for my Lifestyles column; as many words as it takes for other essays), I apply the same process, but with different phrases. Instead of “and then?” I ask “Why?” for an Op-Ed and “So what?” for Lifestyles.
Most of the time I am lucky — I don’t have to ask myself those questions because I walk around asking them in my head, all day long, and by the time I get to the keyboard (or the pen, if I am sitting someplace and that’s all that’s available to me), I have enough momentum in my head to make my hands move.