Sitting at the typewriter swallowing blood.
I wake up in the morning. Rarely at the same time. I used to be one of those productivity quacks that dragged my ass out of bed at the crack of dawn. But, after realizing I have another five or so decades in this game (hopefully), I’ve started pacing myself.
Once standing, I brush my teeth, thoroughly, because there isn’t a damn thing that fucks up a writing day worse than a root canal.
I pour a cup of coffee.
I read somewhere you’re supposed to wait an hour after you’ve risen to flirt with caffeine but to hell with it. While life is long, it is also short, and regardless of it being long or short, coffee, for me, isn’t something I’m willing to limit myself on.
But, coffee? I’m sorry, I just can’t.
Down the hatch, it goes. It’s sacred to me. I fully understand why Brian Koppelman calls the first morning’s cup The Royale. And, more so, why Johnny Cash’s idea of paradise was, “This morning, with her, having coffee.”
Being that there is no misses in my life at the moment and the closest person I have to a misses lives a great ways away, “her” is usually my muse — though, we’re too soon into this rant for me to start riffing about some hokey-pokey shit like that.
On the good days, I stay off my phone until noon, sometimes later. On the bad days, I will check email and Twitter and LinkedIn — I try desperately not to because Steven Pressfield labels this resistance — but it’s been taking me an hour to get my wheels turning lately and something I’ve come to find about creativity is that you can only force it to a point.
It’s not unlike the great gargantuan lifted truck stuck in the mud, manned by the tobacco-chewing hot-head covering up his insecurities with cheap tattoos, white Oakley sunglasses and a constant never-ceasing caffeine-infused rage at the hands of, say, a Monster energy drink. When he finds himself stuck, he responds exactly the way the universe anticipates he will, steel-toe boot to the gas pedal, wheels spinning hysterically, mud slinging like a pair of water buffalo fucking in some jungle in Asia, burying himself further and further into his muddy little cluster-fuck; digging his own grave.
This is the way it is with writing or any sort of creative endeavor. When creatives get stuck, they should fight hard to get out of it, for so long, then it would do them a great deal of good to get their ass up from the writing desk and take a breather. I believe this is why Joan Didion stuck her manuscript in the freezer when she found herself blocked.
I’m constantly fighting to sharpen my writing process so I find myself less stuck, less often. Staying off screens has helped considerably. One day, I’d like to roll out of bed and immediately begin writing stream of consciousness like Jake Kerouac, still a bit dreamy from the night before, sort of like I’m writing this article now — oh, fuck me, did I hear a ding?
Eventually, be it minutes or be it hours, I gather up enough courage to let the tigers through the door.
I say fuck you to the dings.
I close out of my email.
I wave goodbye to that beautiful tweeting bluebird (besides maybe a root canal, trying to be overly clever on Twitter is a sure-fire way to send an afternoon of writing to hell in a hand-basket).
I step away from that virtual water cooler where all those thought-leaders like to hang about jerking one another off.
And, I write. I write and I write and I write.
Someone somewhere once said the hardest part of writing is sitting down to write and it’s the truest thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve never had trouble writing once I’ve sat down. The battle for me is sitting down without distraction.
Making yourself bored helps. I picked this up from Neil Gaiman. To write his novels — he’s written something like 35 — he makes himself incredibly bored.
I think this is brilliant. I mean, really very brilliant.
Here’s the thing about boredom: when you make yourself bored you’re forced to entertain yourself and as long as you don’t have social media or porn or some sort of flashing screen vying for your attention, you will decapitate your boredom by using something most of us never use after the age of seven… your imagination.
Now, once coffee has been drunk, screens have been blackened, books have been read and asses have been seated, I have to keep mum about the actual writing. Not because I care to tell but because I don’t know how to tell. I’ve never totally understood how words go from my brain to my fingertips to the page. It has always been something that is as natural to me as speaking; more natural than speaking.
When I find myself in a conversation with someone I feel a bit awkward, like a duck out of water. But, when I am on the page, alone in a room, with just myself and my muse, I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do.
It’s like the big mangey fucking mutt in the alleyway that acts like a lion around his trashcan but a pussy cat anywhere else — this is my trashcan, this is where I was made to be and exist and live. Somehow, I just have bigger balls when I’m on the page. So, try and take it from me, mother fucker.
I suppose that’s where the tenacity bit comes into play, which like the muse, we will touch on momentarily if my easily-distracted mind will allow us to get there.
In the meantime, let’s talk about typewriters.
We don’t use typewriters anymore. Well, I do but only because I’m a romantic old soul and I tell myself my beautiful vintage Remington machine (featured in the above photograph) helps me write better poetry.
But, we both know I’m full of shit.
At first glance, I was going to name this piece “sitting at the computer swallowing blood”. But, it just didn’t have enough zing to it, enough oomph, enough relish, enough gusto.
So, the title of this SOB is “sitting at the typewriter swallowing blood” — at least until I come up with something better looking.
I’m still a budding writer. I know because I can’t imagine writers who have made it romanticize over typewriters. That or they were around them in the golden age of the typewriter and the novelty has since worn off, they get the joke, they’ve heard it one too many times, it’s a dead horse that young guns like myself get a kick out of kicking.
The veterans just care about getting the work down, which is done far less efficiently on a typewriter.
What I do know is that I find it wildly ironic that I’m a budding writer that receives notes from other budding writers writing me asking about writing.
My ego (and perhaps a bit of a God Complex) justifies the semi-regular occurrence as me being quite good at what I do, which might be true. But, the more logical side of me tells me that all writers — the good ones and the bad ones, the young ones and the old ones — need reassurance.
But, the problem with reassurance is that no amount of reassurance is enough. It’s like water in this way. You fill yourself a glass and take a drink and then you fill the glass again and take another drink and you do this, again and again and again, for the rest of your life until you die of something other than dehydration.
The same can be said for reassurance and the writer’s seeking it out. You will need it, to some degree, until the day you die or until the day you decide to leave the page permanently.
But, really, the only reassurance you need, or any of us need, is this: you will forever be good enough as long you don’t do the latter before the former (reread the previous sentence, the sentence that came before this chunk of text).
As long as dying is the reason you’ve stopped writing, you have won — despite the size of your readership, despite the girth of your pocketbook, despite the number of books with your name tattooed to their spines.
However, that said, the decent writers, the good writers, seem to achieve this masterful feat (fending off the temptation of waving the white flag until they croak) while requiring little reassurance.
I imagine this stems from writers choosing to write for their own applause rather than the applause of others. Which, again, is so very difficult because most writers are whores.
Not whores in the drop your pants and bite your lip sense. But, whores in the sense that they need eyes on their work to feel validated, to feel valuable, to feel worthwhile.
I’d argue us writers are only second to musicians in this way. You give a musician a guitar and tell him to go play in an empty white-washed room, there is a good chance he will not be in there for long.
The ones that that seem to never leave are the ones that have the chops and the ones that have the chops usually end up being the ones the rest of us want to listen to.
Which is wildly ironic when you think about it… the musicians that gobble up the listeners are the ones that don’t really need the listeners.
Writers aren’t any different.
A good while back I had a young aspiring writer say to me…
“I looked back through your articles on Honey Copy. The stuff you published a few years back was good. But, your stuff now is so much better. What happened?”
I said 1,095 days of writing happened.
To date, it’s the greatest advice I’ve ever given anyone. I still believe it. I hope I will believe it until the day I die because that will mean I haven’t lost, that I kept writing until I stopped breathing.
Perhaps, in a way, this is what Charles Bukowski was getting at in his poem so you want to be a writer where he writes…
“don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.”
This is as good a time as any for tenacity to come stumbling into the conversation piss drunk like a shitty father after a night out grab-assing and gunning down glory days with his high school boys.
Tenacity is this bizarre thing that you’re either born with or you aren’t and it is also something that seems to only rear it’s ugly nasty little head when we are doing something that sets our soul on fire.
The legendary science fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut, called this Moxie. It’s a refusal to go unread. It’s tenacity.
The best writers I’ve read have been the most tenacious. They’re the mean fire-breathing mother fuckers who bang away at their *typewriters and place what they’ve shit out in front of every pair of eyes willing to read them.
They aren’t the bright-eyed bushy-tailed kids asking me how I became a better writer over the past three years. They know the answer, intuitively, the way a young man or woman knows how to fuck before they’ve ever fucked a day in their life. It’s almost primal.
One day, their muse comes strutting into a pimply-faced kid’s bedroom, half-drunk, more bewitching than Satan’s mistress, more voluptuous than Marilyn Monroe, meaner than Bukowski and she taps the table with her smokes, digs one out with her matte black acrylics, ignites it and takes a long generous pull with her pretty pursed lips. She blows clouds from her mouth and she smiles and she asks the writer to write her something, something pretty. And, the writer begins and he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t stop for the rest of his life.
From there on out, each day, he finds himself sitting at his typewriter swallowing blood, his muse in some dark shadowy corner of the room smoking a cigarette, smiling, watching the show, watching the show, watching the show.
I know because I was that boy so many years ago in that room (that room that in a sense I have never left) and I’m still sitting here, my posture slowly transforming into a lurching tidal wave with each passing year, my eyes seeing a little less well with each passing word, my heart beating a little harder with each passing sentence that rings true, and all the while I can feel her behind me, smiling, smoking her cigarettes, applauding some shows, scorning others and all the while appreciating my sacrifice, me killing myself for her.
This is where I will be, until I die, sitting at my typewriter, swallowing blood.
By Cole Schafer.
If you liked this you might like my newsletter, Chasing Hemingway, it’s about writing and life and how the two exist so magically together.
Originally published at https://www.honeycopy.com on June 11, 2020.