Mantras, manuscripts and mastery


Producing the right stuff is the stuff dreams are made on.  Da Vinci allegedly painted the Mona Lisa for 16 years.  Without the arbitrariness of a deadline, how do you know when it’s done? The undiscovered country of the empty screen contrasts to the amazement of producing something stunning, eloquent, just right.    Mastery comes from a convergence of multiple streams of knowledge and ironically holds the master in thrall. The creator enters a highly charged state where the work flows through, if the vessel is primed and the channels are opened.  Such a state of purity in nigh on a spiritual experience.  Or not.

The work of Hillary Rettig promises to eradicate writer’s block.  To perpetrate the writing of a really big project, like a dissertation, Rettig counsels a non-linear approach to writing.  Can’t get through the hard slogging?  Move elsewhere to less demanding tasks and keep moving.  Or try the a one-inch frame mantra.

Viewing your work from the meager and terrifying prospect of a point at the end of an endless string of words isn’t helpful. It’s far more productive to view it as a landscape that you’re viewing from above, and whose topographic features include hard parts, easy parts, exposition parts, dialogue parts, parts involving Character A, parts involving Theme B, etc. Viewed like this, your project resembles an illustrated map, or maybe one of those miniature landscapes you see in museums, and it’s now accessible to you in its totality.

And now you can use a visualization tool I call the “writercopter,” a mental helicopter that can transport you to any place in your piece. The moment you feel you’ve taken a particular patch of writing as far as you can, hop onto your copter and take it to another section that looks enticing. Work there until you run dry, and then reboard and hop to another part.
What if no part looks appealing? Try writing about the piece, since your alienation from it is probably rooted in the fact that you either need to think it through more or are trying to force it in the wrong direction (see Section 5.9). In the unlikely event that doesn’t help, set the piece aside and let it marinate while you work on something else.” 

Someone who employed a  non-linear process, shared the process she used to get to the final throes of her dissertation writing.  To write, she adhered to a strict regime characterized by monk-like purity and discipline.

Every day at 8 am, the would-be scholar ensconced herself in a cubicle in a beautiful modern library.  Using pen, paper, scissors and tape, she accessed an inner place of concentration deliberately designed to be distraction free.  Uninterrupted by the little red lines that distract in electronic word processing, the temptation to surf the web, ringing phones and even the dictionaries and thesauri which likewise side-track, she worked until noon.

As the stuff she produced in the “pure” writing state could now fly from her fingers in a mindless fashion into a word processing program, she took advantage of a lower energy state later in the day to do so. Or she might turn her attention to any of the thousand little details which flesh out a dissertation, not all of which require intensity.

While I admire the discipline, ritual, and productivity that came from my friend’s writing process, I like to write at home, standing up, early in the morning, and to listen to music, even dance, stretch, do yoga.  In any case, I’d benefit from a solid writercopter writing ritual that gets me through the dissertation proposal let alone the dissertation.

My mantra I think…borrowed from Rettig…just get something down.

My ritual? Yeah I gotta get a ritual.  What’s yours?

2 Replies to “Mantras, manuscripts and mastery”

  1. I do my most creative work first thing in the morning, after my cup and a half of coffee and bowl of granola. I lean back in my electric recliner, rest my fingers on my laptop and write two scenes a day (towards a trilogy of short stories I’m writing – “Life”, “Liberty”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness”). It takes me between 1-2 hours (even with a break between scenes). I’ve been able to finish 2 of my 3 stories. Tomorrow I start number 3.


    1. I’m trying a new process…something like put the sections of the writing into Powerpoint slides, with images if possible, and then speak through the writing. Now I’m gonna transfer this to story-boarding.


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