January 15, 2012
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been thinking about my writing habits today — and how they’ve changed over the years. No less weird, just different.
When I first started to write professionally we didn’t have computers; and yes, I did hesitate to ‘say’ that out loud for fear that you’d immediately jump to the wrong conclusion: No, I am not living in a nursing home. I have all my teeth. I do not drool. I have no need for adult diapers, pureed food, pull-on pants or a walker. I was born post WWII, and 1984 (when Apple was launched) is not really that long ago.
I’m just saying.
So … back then we didn’t have computers. We did have typewriters , but I didn’t use one — at least not to ‘create’. My preference was to write everything out by hand; and only when I had a draft that I liked, did I type it up. Even more bizarre, though, was the fact that I never used a whole piece of paper (I promise I am much more environmentally conscious/friendly now). In fact I probably went through a pound of paper each time I wrote something.
I’d write a line on one sheet, then a couple of lines on another sheet, a thought here, a thought there — and on and on it went. Once I had some critical mass, I’d start weaving all those thoughts and words and sentences together until I had a few paragraphs I liked — which could have taken countless tries on countless sheets of paper. Then I’d carry on — again using many sheets of paper for many versions — until eventually, I’d have enough to type my first draft — which I’d edit by writing all over it, making the changes in pen, first.
I simply could not seem to sit at a typewriter and write from scratch. I also needed total silence. And every couple of sentences I had to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee.
In 1985 I moved to Toronto (from Montreal) to work for the ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather. Needless to say we all had Macs. Mine collected dust. I continued to work the way I always had, until one day another writer — who had been watching me in disbelief (and disgust, and probably pity) for months and months — came into my office and shut the door. She told me that she wasn’t going to leave until I started to use my computer.
I gave her every reason why I couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t and it all fell on deaf ears. She removed everything I’d piled on top of it, dusted it off, turned it on and sat down next to me — ready to start my tutorial. I don’t know if she follows my blog but just in case, “Thank you, Erin Moore!” But the little writing muse inside my head was still hooked on quiet, coffee and cigarettes (I had an ashtray the size of a spare tire and it was always filled to the brim with smoldering butts).
Until I decided to quit smoking when all the anti-smoking laws started taking effect in Toronto — which dates back about 20 years. Agency management were quite concerned — they were worried that my productivity and my ability to write might be negatively impacted. Truth be told I think they were also worried about mood swings. Smoking is an addiction, after all. As I recall they did check my office for sharp objects and I also remember that my letter opener mysteriously disappeared one day. Yep, you got that right — instead of encouraging me to stop, they encouraged me to “think it over carefully, and not to rush into anything.” Only half in jest, by the way.
I quit cold turkey and thankfully my talent stayed intact. I did have the odd tantrum but I don’t think the lack of nicotine had anything to do with it — probably had a lot more to do with difficult deadlines and unnecessary revisions (I am all for constructive criticism — it’s the minutia that kills me. All would not really be lost if we didn’t change the comma to a semi-colon, would it?)
And that was the way I worked for quite a while (with my door closed and bottles of water by my side) — until 2000, in fact. That was the year I was recruited to be a partner in an independent start-up agency. Up until this point you were defined by how big your office was, whether or not you had a window(s), whether or not you had a couch etc. But now ‘cool’ was large, open-concept, loft-like offices with brick walls, wood floors (or industrial carpet), high ceilings with exposed pipes and play areas (pool tables or basketball hoops or putting greens etc.).
So that’s what we went for. Most of the people in our agency hated the idea — at least at first. For some unknown reason I absolutely loved it. It was so much more collaborative. And honestly, when I was engrossed in what I was doing I totally blocked out any conversations people were having. I never heard a word and I was never distracted.
Now I work alone, from home. When I first went out on my own I furnished myself a lovely home office. Good lighting. A nice desk. A fabulously comfortable, ergonomic Aeron chair, bookshelves, good storage space — everything you’d need and want.
I hate working in there. I don’t work in there.
If I must work from home, I prefer my dining room table. Why? God knows. I guess some things don’t have to make sense.
What I’ve realized is, I don’t like working at home because it’s too quiet. And by quiet, I don’t mean I want noise. Playing music or putting on the TV don’t help. In fact they make it worse. It’s the ‘sound’ of human energy I crave. It’s a ‘buzz’.
So now I work most of the time at Starbucks — primarily because there’s one just across the street from where I live. But I have worked at other cafes and all sorts of public places; and while they’re all pretty good, some are better than others. There are some Starbucks I don’t like. The buzz isn’t right for some reason. Again, don’t ask me why. Just one of my peculiarities, I guess. It appears that I’m not just strange, I’m also picky.
But it is working for me, so who am I to question it.
What about you? I’m curious about your writing habits. Hope you take the time to share them.