GETTING INTO THE MOOD
How does one get into the mood to write? My reply is quite simple. When the bank balance is low, I get in the mood. That doesn’t mean I write solely to earn money. No, writing is a profession, and I made up my mind long ago to treat it as such. I concluded if l had my old office job in the government, or had I still been working in a factory, or a steel mill, or a coal mine as I once did, or I did whatever I had to do to earn a crust of bread, and I decided I didn’t want to go to work the next day because I was up late or I had a headache, I would have had to answer to the boss. If I kept it up, missing work, I’d get fired. It’s that simple. My mother-in-law needs me to help paint the kitchen is not an excuse.
The fact is, we squander valuable time, time we spend watching TV or playing video games when we could spend the time behind a word processor writing stories. Or reading. When I made up my mind to be a writer, I had to determine my priorities, and I had to stick to them. No more excuses.
It’s a fact that outsiders, those not in the writing business, never treat writing as serious stuff. In the beginning years, before I put my foot down, I was asked to do things for friends and relatives that they wouldn’t dare ask if I were sitting in an office or in the mines digging coal. “You are only sitting at a desk. Why can’t you give me a hand?” they would ask. I had to learn to be nasty. “What’s wrong with him?” now they would say. I remember watching the painters sitting at their easels in Montmartre in Paris. They seemed oblivious to the world around them, and never answered questions asked them. I then noticed many of them had earplugs. Maybe that’s what we need when we sit at our work place and someone comes in and sits down “to watch us write.” It’s most difficult to teach others to respect your writing habits. But it was something I had to do.
A writer must learn to write every day, day in and day out. That’s a tough lesson I had to teach myself I learned, from necessity, not to say “never mind, I will make up for it later.” There is no making up ever for lost time. You can never make up for lost time. Time lost is time gone forever. Developing discipline is essential. The toughest time I had teaching myself discipline was when I was living on Tahiti. I had a grass hut at Point Venus on Matavia Bay, where the original HMS Bounty anchored, and every day without fail, my Aussie friends arrived on their Vespas, with their sarong-clad vahines sitting behind them, holding on tight, their long hair blowing in the wind. They would come charging up the drive full of fun and life. From a pandanas sack, they would pull out a demijohn of red wine and put it on the table with half a dozen coconut shells for cups. The girls would take a guitar and begin strumming. The guys would go for a swim, laughing and shouting. They always called for me to join them. I couldn’t. This took discipline, real discipline. I had work to do, my writing. I sat in my front room with its open front, watching my friends frolicking in the sun, while I pounded away at my Hermes. They often asked what I was writing, but I wouldn’t tell them. I was too embarrassed. I was writing down what they were doing, playing on the beach. 1 took down their conversation, attempting to capture their way of speech and their dialect.
I copied their jesting, their jokes, their four-letter words, everything. When I looked back at my written pages, from Tahiti alone, I had over 400,000 words. It wasn’t until years later when I returned to Tahiti and met Leonie, one of the girls who had been a frequent visitor at my house, and since had married one of the Australians, that I was reminded about my work habit. “You were always at your typewriter,” she said. “You never stopped.” She brought back all the memories. No wonder everyone thought I was a bore, working all the time. I may have been a bore to them, but by no means was I bored.
It was difficult, at times, but I had to get into the habit to sit down and write. I had to get into a routine. I liked the routine Hemingway had developed. He got up at dawn, wrote until noon, had lunch at one, with wine of course, and fished all afternoon aboard his yacht Pilar. He drank with his pals in the evening.
As a travel writer it is somewhat more difficult to develop a routine. I have to travel first and write later. That means working late at night to meet deadlines. People I know often accuse me of being a workaholic when they see me burning the midnight oil. The chances are that I had been traveling all day, or else I was doing interviews, and it was at night that I had to put in my time writing. I can’t let it wait until the next day.
Getting into the mood is getting into the habit. When I started writing, I had a friend who also wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world. He wrote every day. He never talked about it, nor did he show me what he was writing, but he worked hard at it. The only thing he admitted was that it was a novel. He knew T wanted to achieve the same goal, to be a novelist. After all, that’s what every writer wants to do, write a book. When I sold my first piece, an article on technical writing, he criticized me terribly. How could I stoop so low? I was prostituting the art of writing. I don’t know if he ever finished his novel and got it published, but I do know my writing for technical manuals and for low-paying magazines was my stepping stone to better things.
And so I write, and continue to write, and don’t stop. As Edward Harriman, the railroad builder once said, “Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more.” I let that be my motto.
A writer has to overcome the great capacity for procrastination. One excuse is the lack of tools. It’s so easy to do, to put the blame on something or someone else. Maybe it’s your computer. The ads tell you that you need a new computer. Yours is not fast enough. Then there’s the Internet, and you have to check to see if you’ve “Got Mail.” Maybe your chair is uncomfortable, and you think you need a better one; or the lighting above your desk is not good; and so it goes. You can find all kinds of excuses, endless excuses. With all our modem conveniences, it seems life gets more confusing, not better. Before computers and word processing, our biggest worry was that our typewriter ribbon was wearing out, or even before that, that we would run out of ink.
I have to think of the masters. Nothing stopped them. Tolstoy wrote in a freezing, unheated studio, warming his fingers with a candle. Hemingway hurt his back in a plane crash in Africa, and it pained him so much, he had to write standing up. Thomas Wolfe was much the same when he wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. He, too, had hurt his back from slipping on the ice in New York, so he placed his typewriter on top of his kitchen icebox -he was 6′ 4″-and wrote standing up. Stevenson wrote with a pencil, and the stubs were often so short, he could hardly hold onto them. They all still wrote. I staunchly believe that computers make life easier for us, but they do not make us more productive. In the past, I produced just as many stories and books every year with my little, much-battered Hermes typewriter as I do now. I spend more time logging and sorting and playing around with these new machines and systems than I need to. Perhaps for research they may come in handy, but there is nothing like going to a library with its rows of books. A library is an inducement to writing. A book in your hands feels good. Pages slowly turned are a revelation. I never hear anyone say that about a computer.