Like a Night Watchman
Like a Night Watchman
January 25, 2010
When you lack a particular skill, you are often curious what it would feel like to have it. For example, I marvel at people who can sing in key, or even recognize the right key when they hear it. I suppose it’s more about feeling the music than thinking it. So I wonder what that feeling is like.
My little window of talent involves selecting the right words to make things sound either funny or compelling. I’ll get to that in a minute.
My job also involves drawing, but that’s not so much a talent (obviously) as it is a simple skill that I developed through practice. If I have any talent in that area, it involves knowing how to make the drawings fit the way I write. I could draw in a lot of different styles, albeit just as poorly as the one I use now, but my current style might be the only one that fits my writing.
Let’s forget about the drawing part of my job and talk about word selection. In that area, I can actually feel a sensation that is like no other in my life. And I wonder if it is what musically inclined people feel when they write the perfect melody, or what athletes feel when they are in the zone.
I can literally feel words. And I wonder if it is a mild form of synesthesia, a condition where people have a form of crosstalk in their senses. A person with synesthesia might perceive certain words or numbers to have colors. Or they might perceive a particular month or a year as having something like a personality or a location.
My relationship with words is that I can feel them more deeply than most people. At least that is what I think is happening. To me, the word aura feels beautiful, but when I see osso bucco on a menu, I feel as if I have been slapped by a crabby skunk.
By the way, I experience the words “osso bucco” the same way I experience the words “crabby skunk.” The words and their meanings are completely different, yet the feeling I get from them is the same. I probably store those words in the same parts of my brain.
I’m reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open. I assume it is ghost written, since Andre is barely educated, he says. My first reaction to the writing style was that it is heavy handed, and it bothered me. In time, I realized the writing style evoked the same feeling in me that Agassi evokes as a public persona. It was a perfect match. I assume Agassi’s publisher hooked him up with a world-class ghost writer, and it shows. The writer found a style that fits the subject, probably leaving a lot of writer’s ego at the curb. It’s brilliant work. The book is fascinating.
People often ask how I get into the writing frame of mind. To me, it feels like being the night watchman in a museum. My job is to make sure all the doors are locked, and the blinds are pulled, and the lights are out. As a writer, you need to shut out all of the distractions from your other senses. I make sure I’m not hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or listening to anything. Then, like the night watchman, I go room by room with my flashlight until something scares me, surprises me, or makes me laugh. I have to feel something. And when I do, that’s the part I keep. Then I wrap up the inspiring words in ordinary words, to form sentences. That part is more craft than art.
Writers tend to work early in the morning, or late at night, when brains are naturally able to focus deeply on one thought. In the middle of the day, distractions are unavoidable. I wonder if anything worthwhile has ever been written in the afternoon.