I don’t know about other writers, but I get most of my really good ideas in the shower. There’s something about standing dead-center in a stream of hot water that dissolves blocks, brings characters to life, turns mental pictures into streams of words, and generally makes me feel as though there’s literally nothing I can’t write. Improve the opening of Dickens’ “Bleak House”? No problem.
The challenge is sustaining that feeling when I’m dry. I have actually leapt from the shower, wiping my hands frantically on a towel, and stood stark naked over my computer, banging away to get it all down before evaporation strikes. And usually, at least some wispy memories of the inspiration remain an hour or two later (by which time I’m dressed), and that’s all it takes if I’m really working. Even if I get it wrong the first time, I can circle around it until I get it right, or at least rightish, and then I can move on, knowing I can come back to it tomorrow.
When I’m putting in really long writing days — say, 6-9 hours — I’m so clean I squeak. I do a lot of my writing in the Southeast Asian tropics, where frequent showers are a good idea (if not a necessity) anyway. But I rarely write at home. I like energy in the room, and people around when I work. If I need a face, I like being able just to look around and steal one. And there has to be coffee, essentially an endless supply of coffee, easily accessible. So, in Bangkok or Southern China or Phnom Penh or wherever else I am, I write mainly in coffee shops.
That’s great, except that most coffee shops don’t have showers, or if they do, they’re a carefully kept secret. So three or four times a day I have to save the document, cut off the computer, pack the bag, get into the car, go home, climb the stairs, get undressed, shower, get dressed, grab the bag, go back down the stairs, get back into the car . . .
That’s a lot of energy expended, energy that could probably produce two or three new characters, ten or twelve terrific pages, or even a better title. (More about titles in a later blog.) Still, once I’m set up in my booth again, with the computer open and a fresh cup of coffee sending up its little woo-woo wisps of steam, I’ve got lots of stuff to get onto the page. I can’t complain too much.
But the point is that there has to be some way to do this while remaining dry. In the bad old days, there were cigarettes. Got a writing block? Go on remote control: Get the pack, pull out the little poisonous cylinder, put it into the mouth, find the lighter, flick it, check the flame, light the far end of the cigarette (remember, always the far end; with the mania for stupid instructions these days, I’m surprised cigarette packages don’t have a boldface warning; Do not light the end of the cigarette that is in your mouth), take a puff. Then I usually put it out really fast because the problem was solved. Like taking a shower, but faster and more likely to cause painful death.
But cigarettes are just a memory, along with a lot of other vices with a very short learning curve and (eventually) rapidly diminishing returns. What I have now are showers, and showers are a cumbersome way of coaxing inspiration. Not to mention that it’s hard to type when your fingertips are all puckered.
So I’m looking. Somewhere out there, there’s got to be a writer with a short-cut, or at least a more portable route to inspiration. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted, and if I wind up using your method, I’ll name a character after you in my next book. A nice character, too.