You know, Ritalin. Stimulant. Schedule II controlled substance.
Yes – Ritalin treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, counterintuitively, narcolepsy.
Those are precisely my symptoms: I fluctuate between flitting about cheerfully dusting knickknacks and deep snoring sleep.
And I’ve built up a tolerance to Starbucks. Desperate times.
I have a job to do, yet in spite of my good will and determination, I ping pong between distraction, an inexplicable urge to rearrange furniture and the powerful draw of that sunny spot on the comforter next to the cat.
Euphemistically, I linger in the pre-writing stage.
Pre-writing is that stage of writing we scribes sometimes love because it adds to our mystery. Here’s the beauty of it: When you’re an enigma, you don’t have to answer pragmatic questions like, “What are you doing in there?”
I am at the keyboard in my enchanted place, here in my study with my special stuff all around me: My crystal ball; this molded glass head full of black and butter and kidney beans; the electric piano that I can still barely play; a light-up globe with a broken switch; a black-and-white photo of my brother and me, ages five and three, on our dad’s Harley-Davidson.
This is my happy place. Here convene the elements of alchemy.
After all, writing is magic, right? One minute writers behave within the parameters of normalcy. We go to lunch. We converse, make eye contact. We listen and respond. We turn a phrase and keep the banter lively.
Next minute we are seized with inspiration, jump up, run to the computer and gush, like Old Faithful. Or we speak furtively into our cell phone recorders or snag the proverbial napkin and dash off our pithy insights – the seeds of the next screenplay, the lynchpin of the story arc.
Either that or our eyes glaze over as we make a mental note and then sit later, in the quiet of the night, bleary-eyed in front of a glowing screen trying to call that pearl back to consciousness.
We love it when non-writers express wonder at what we do. No need to dispel that misapprehension! They don’t know that we marvel too. More accurately, we don’t know what the heck we’re doing, much less how we go about doing it. We wonder too – if we will ever actually get a word on the page.
Or, like Hemingway, we dismiss the act sardonically: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed.”
Oh, we love the drama!
We love the precariousness of it. The fear. The teetering on a tightrope suspended high above solid ground.
Nobody asks anybody why he doesn’t write! So you would think, when one is stuck in the mystical, infuriating prewriting phase, that person could simply stand up, correct her posture, and say, “Balderdash!” with some satisfaction before turning her attention to…what? Anything she wants! Anything else! Bookkeeping, let’s say. Or archeology.
But writers cannot quit: They know the mandate – a writer can’t not write. Even when suspended in the air.
So yes. Here we are – prewriting.
The prewriting stage encompasses key features of a writing project including, but not limited to choosing your topic, identifying your audience and purpose, brainstorming ideas, organizing information, sorting laundry, solving murders with Lt. Joe Kenda, communing with your cat, staring into the ether and look! An osprey over the water!
You know, doing almost anything but pecking out sentences on the screen.
And I’ve outgrown caffeine – the gateway drug.
I considered drinking. I wouldn’t be the first writer to slosh along for a good while. Alcohol would facilitate the napping. So there’s that.
But I think you need to be a Dorothy Parker – really good and well established – to get away with it. Someone like me could find herself inebriated and alone at the Algonquin.
That’s no good.
So yes, if I can find an unscrupulous doctor, I think I’ll try Ritalin. That’s what it’s come to.
My topic? Well! If you have to ask! My audience?? Apologies, Dear Reader. It’s all for you.
Purpose? There’s the rub.
And look! A cloud shaped like a penguin!