I’m one of those people that becomes completely engrossed when I read a book.
The book that is consuming my life right now is Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit. I found it in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble, but it’s really a book about how discipline fosters and supports creativity. So now it is my morning ritual to sit down and write this blog no matter how little I think I have to write. The ritual is the writing, not the outcome.
I had an English professor in college who I believe is largely responsible for nurturing my love of writing. One of our first assignments in class was to write a ten page paper about bricks. When he made the assignment the class balked and asked many questions to understand. Was this a research paper? How in the world would we write and then type a 10 page paper about a brick? My professor insisted we just write. Write and write about bricks. The assignment was due in a week.
Admittedly, the assignment seemed daunting at the start. Ten blank pages before me demanding to be filled with words about bricks. How boring, how mundane. As luck would have it, I was in school in Charleston, South Carolina at the time and that place is covered in bricks. Brick sidewalks, walls, roads, and buildings were everywhere. So the town was filled to the brim with material for my writing.
Fortunately for me, this form of writing absolutely spoke to me. To everyone else in the class, it seemed a ridiculous waste of time. I decided at once to give myself over to the assignment. I wrote volumes about bricks, page after beautiful page inspired by bricks. My brain spewed out every story and detail possible about bricks, reaching below the surface to consider the brick on a deeper level. How was it made? Who made it? I discovered beauty in bricks and the hands and feet that I imagined had touched them over the centuries. My mind constantly wandered to bricks all week. The following Monday in class I gleefully turned in my stack of papers.
With every stack of scribbled stream of consciousness paper was a corresponding 2 or 3 page typed paper. Boiling down the pages of material to create a brilliant final draft was the ritual we were beginning. I was certain I’d been shown the Holy Grail of writing.
The semester went on like this. 16 pages of writing about leaves, 27 pages about paper, 33 pages about pillows. With each assignment I grew more confident. With each paper I began to find my authentic writing voice. My professor and I were in a writing love affair. He loved that I got it, I loved that he showed me this secret. Each final draft and it’s accompanying material was a gift I’d share with him. The “A” I got at the end of the semester was nothing compared to treasure I’d been given.
Without the demands of my beloved professor, I’m not quite so disciplined. However I do continue to use a version of this ritual when I write. I cherish the lessons I learned through that ritual.