There was a comment posted here recently that may or may not have been spam. Because I love comments so much, and because it was an interesting question, I want to reply to it, but it was also off-topic to the post where it appeared, so I’m replying here. If this was your question and was submitted seriously then I apologize for thinking it might be spam. And also thank you for commenting and giving me a chance to respond.
Here’s the comment:
I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips?
And here’s my suggestion: embrace those ten to fifteen minutes. Think of them as a warm-up. That’s not time wasted. That’s time getting started. If you’re sitting down to write on a specific schedule you’re training your brain to recognize that as writing time, and the time you spend thinking will probably diminish. Even if it doesn’t that’s okay.
Here are a couple of anecdotes that might help put this in perspective:
Eudora Welty, if I remember correctly, would sit at her desk for three hours without writing anything. Then she’d write like crazy. She’d also write long, meandering descriptions of the scenery which she’d throw away. This seems to have worked for her.
Gene Wilder described the writing sessions he had with Mel Brooks while working on Young Frankenstein. Brooks would show up with a snack and would fiddle around for half an hour or more discussing how to prepare the snack and what they should have with it. Wilder soon realized that this was the way Mel Brooks worked. He’d focus on something irrelevant before settling down.
And then there’s what Roald Dahl said in his story Lucky Break: How I Became A Writer: “But however much you may want to take up fiction writing as a career, it would be pointless to go along to a publisher and say ‘I want a job as a fiction writer.’ If you did that, he would tell you to buzz off and write the book first.”
In spite of half a dozen creative writing classes and some writing groups I can’t claim to be an expert on writing. Then again I’m not sure anyone can. You can ask for, and receive, a lot of advice. You can study grammar and read books like Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. These things may help, but as with anything else study is no substitute for experience. If you want to do it do it.
And save the tips for your waiter.
I love learning new words, especially slang, and slang from other countries is even better. That’s why I was thrilled the first time I heard an Irish co-worker describe someone as “gormless”. I forget whom we were talking about, but it was someone who was an idiot, and she said, “He’s completely gormless!” And just like that I knew what it meant—someone stupid, clueless, moronic, daft, a dunderhead, a nincompoop, a numbskull, a birdbrain, a yutz, a drongo.
So naturally the first question that popped into my head was, is someone smart full of gorm? I’m not making fun of it—I’m the kind of guy who, every time he hears someone described as “ruthless” wonders if there’s such a thing as being ruthful.
I ran to my favorite source—the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, I have some slang dictionaries that I love just browsing through, but the OED is where I go when I want more information. And I found that “gormless” comes from an old Norse word “gaum” that means “notice, understanding”. And there is a noun, “gorm”, that means “An undiscerning person, a fool.”
And then I made the connection that the root of “gormless” is the origin of the name Gomer. How did I not figure that out sooner? I must be completely gormless.
Pomegranate. Acai berries. Quinoa. Marketers have started calling these “superfoods” because they supposedly pack dense nutrition or have special properties. They’re also kind of hard to sell. That’s even more true of camel milk, which has been called “the next superfood”. Camel milk reminds me of that old joke about cow milk: Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, “I think I’ll squeeze those dangly things and drink whatever comes out”? Actually drinking cow milk, camel milk, goat milk, or even yak milk doesn’t seem that strange to me. All mammals produce milk, and if you’re living a subsistence existence drinking the milk of an animal you use for other things—like plowing or getting from one oasis to another—makes a lot more sense than eating it. The real question in my mind is, what else will we milk?
It’s also been said that the first person to eat an oyster must have been very hungry or very brave. Maybe they’d just been doing taste testing around the tide pools and found that starfish and anemones just don’t taste that good. I think the bravest person ever was the second person to try a mushroom after the first one ate a poisonous one and died a horrible death.
In nature bright vivid colors also tend to be an organism’s way of saying “Don’t eat me! I’m deadly!” Think of poison dart frogs, monarch butterflies, or other bright insects. They can afford to advertise because no one wants to eat them.
Now think strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers. Did I mention pomegranate?
Kale is also sold as a superfood, which never ceases to surprise me. One summer when I was in college I had a job stocking a restaurant salad bar. Kale was the garnish that covered up the ugly metal around the tubs of shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, and bean sprouts. The most super thing about it is that the same kale would last a week.
For me a superfood is coconut cream pie. Maybe it doesn’t have any special nutritive properties, but think about how hungry the first person to break open a coconut must have been. And I feel super while eating it. That’s good enough, right?
When you’re at the grocery store do you ever keep walking past the same person again and again so you feel like you’re unintentionally stalking them? When that happens to me I assume we’re both shopping for the same thing, so when they’re not looking I steal their cart. I figure it saves me a lot of time. And when I get to the register and the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I say, “I’ll know when I get home.”
Pansies are tender, delicate flowers that must be treated with the utmost care. That’s why it’s an insult to call someone a “pansy”, right? And yet pansies are the only flowers I see that thrive in the winter. They seem to love the cold.
Weird fact: the name “pansy” derives from the same French root as “pensive”. I have no idea why because pansies always seem pretty relaxed, especially when the rest of us are freezing. At one time pansies were called “heartsease”. It was probably changed because that sounds too much like “heart seize”, and nomenclature is very important in the flower world. Nobody wants to grow something that could be mistaken for coronary thrombosis.
The Oxford English Dictionary says another definition for “pansy” is “A male homosexual; an effeminate man; a weakling.” That’s supposed to be an insult. Calling someone a flower that thrives in bitter cold that kills most other plants sounds like a compliment to me.
All those who recognized the title as a line spoken by the Black Knight in Monty Python & The Holy Grail ask yourself: which would you rather be?
Some one-legged creature crossed the snow here. Was it a monster? A hideously deformed being? An alien? An atavism? A kid on a pogo stick? And is it in any way related to the great Devon mystery of 1855?
We may never know.
Feel free to add your own thoughts, ideas, musings, speculations, extrapolations, considerations, deviations, palpitations, renovations, innovations, pollinations, excavations, abominations, characterizations, fictionalizations, retranslations, or other assorted cogitations here.
I was walking home when a small dog came running to the edge of his yard. “Bark! Bark! Bark!” I stopped and waved at him and said “Hello!” He stopped then turned and looked back at his house. I swear I could hear him speaking.
“Do I know this schmuck? Somebody come and help me out here.”