Corner Post: “Get a Rhythm”

First thing in the morning read something—a poem, half a story, an essay, a thesaurus entry.  Just get your mind immersed in words.

Write something out longhand.  Short.  Something about the day and writing.

Then start.

Don’t bet on getting too much good done in the first half hour.  Words will come out of your head like chunks of moldy milk.  That yucky.  You will scribble on paper and be unable to read your own writing.  You will hit the wrong keys on the keyboard.  But don’t panic.  It just takes a while to get heated up.  A half hour later, after coffee, you’ll come back and the writing will be smoother, better.

You have to believe the words on the page will open for them to open.

And . . . Don’t be afraid to write goofy, awful, regrettable things down.  Here is something I wrote: “To get so deep under my characters’ skin, like a needle, as to make them holler and bleed until they offer every last splinter between them and me up.” I was referring to writing “deep” as opposed to writing on the “surface of things.”  Every time I think of “deep” writing I have to laugh at myself.  I mean, you do want to get under your characters’ skin, but “deep” writing—ugh!  Using a needle as the simile—ugh!  And when I came up with it, I thought wow, that’s really something.

Writing pretentious, ridiculous, goofy stuff down is important because 1. You’re not censoring yourself.  If you censor yourself, you’ll never write characters who are uncensored, and they need to be uncensored to be real.  2. Some of the best stuff is culled from the goofy.  It is a kind of recycling.  Just know it takes time to find the good out of the bad.  I still have found nothing redeemable out of the sentence I wrote above.  3. The more bad stuff you write, the less serious you will be able to take yourself.  And that’s important because you don’t want your ego to get in the way of the writing.

Forget time.  If you need to set an alarm, set an alarm.  But turn off the clocks.

Avoid distractions.

Then you’ll get in a rhythm, a strong current.  All you have to do is go with it.  So go.

When you take breaks, just get up to make coffee, eggs, toast.  Walk around the house.  Pet the dog.  Step out the door.  Breathe.  Come back in.

Then get back into rhythm.  The words will be waiting on you.

James Braziel

About James Braziel

James Braziel is the author of the novels Birmingham, 35 Miles and Snakeskin Road. His work has appeared in journals and newspapers including the New York Times. Currently, he teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

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