Enjoying My OCD
My entire nature rebels against routine. I want to be spontaneous, unfettered, free. But there’s a strong part of me that craves routine (much to my chagrin).
The profession (and therefore lifestyle) I’ve chosen is a curious dichotomy: I spend a lot of my time on the road, interspersed with chunks of time at home, where I work out of my small home office, in a tiny town of 1,000 people. It’s not unusual for me to speak to no one other than my fiance for days on end. I’ve also found that the more time I spend travelling, the more my own particular brand of OCD (which isn’t really OCD, but a love of routine) flourishes when I’m at home.
The day begins with a cup of tea in bed, scrolling through news feeds on my phone. It takes me a while to get going in the morning, particularly in winter. Once I’m up, I’m moving, and I like to start the day with exercise. I’ve learned that my brain works better if my body is physically exhausted. It seems to clarify my thinking, and I sit still for longer stretches of time. If I launch right into work, I fidget.
Back home, and I’ve trained myself that a hot shower and big vat of coffee signals work is about to begin. I try hard to start the day spending two or three hours on my book. It’s not easy: writing is labor-intensive and draining, and I’m often reluctant (particularly on sunny days) to drag myself into a dark head-space if that’s where the writing requires I go that day.
Every writer has his or her own particular writing routine; the only constant is that writers write every day. You have to. It’s a muscle memory, and the daily routine of writing stirs up something in the back of the mind (bottom left, for me; that’s just how I picture it) that begins to percolate. My subconscious starts to work on my writing, too, firing ideas at me when I least expect it – when I’m out for a walk, deeply asleep at 2 a.m., during dinners with friends. My second book appeared to me while I was shopping at Riccarton Mall in Christchurch. I had tucked an idea away months before, and it suddenly leaped into life, forcing me to sit down at one of those dismal, mid-mall coffee carts to scrawl everything down on napkins after I filled up the notebook I always carry (thanks to my bottom-left subconscious’ unpredictability). It’s all there: characters, names, the story. It is ready to go (once I finish this first book I’m working on!).
But that ‘active marination’ doesn’t happen unless I’m writing every day.
“If you spend more time watching television, using the Internet, or working out than you spend writing, then you’ll need to change that,” Laurence Gonzales, my author friend, advises his writing students.
The only catch, of course, is that this work is unpaid – for now. Between pressing, potentially paying work, a crippling lack of confidence, and a reluctance to disappear into the writing world for a few hours, it can be difficult to tackle the writing straight away. If I don’t, however, it only gets harder to find time for it as the day goes on.
After a few hours of writing, I need to come up for air. It’s difficult to explain, but creative writing is like descending into an ocean. I’m in my own world, a world of my creation, oblivious to anything occurring around me. Any intrusion (a phone call, a knock on the door) is an unpleasant jolt, jarring me from my reverie. Ascension takes time and, once back on the surface, I’m drained. But that’s a ham-fisted description. Roald Dahl has done a better one:
“Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage.”
(I keep his quote, which is part of a larger one on writing, in a picture frame in my office.)
Since it’s only mid-day, I eschew the whiskey and focus on something domestic: tending to the fire, hanging laundry, hauling wood from the shed to our back porch, wandering down the long gravel driveway to check the mail. I find it comforting.
Then it’s back to work for the rest of the day on whatever projects need my attention until 5.30, when I head into Wanaka to pick up my partner. I try to leave the evenings free to spend time with him, although that’s difficult at the moment. I wrap up my day reading in bed, the only thing that calms my mind.
This adherence to routine when I’m home rubs me up the wrong way: I’m supposed to be free, spontaneous! But spontaneity – for me – doesn’t get things done. I work best to this rhythm, and (many, many years later), I’m learning to enjoy it.
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” – Roald Dahl