A few years back, I was interviewing Celia Rivenbark, a noted Southern humorist and a friend of mine, on public radio. We were in a discussion about her latest book when I asked, “Are you funny every day?”
She shook her shimmering blonde head and pursed her pale pink-glossed lips a bit before answering.
“No, sometimes I have to write, but I’m just not in the mood to be funny.”
I’ll say what Celia stopped short of saying: Life isn’t always funny. It’s not even funny 50 percent of the time, which makes it hard to make a living being funny. Most comics prevail by taking the dark and wryly turning it to absurd.
“When that happens and you’re on deadline, what do you do?”
“I pick up a book or magazine that’s funny, and I read it until I’m funny again.”
That’s the problem with being a writer who earns a living with words and stories. Deadlines do not care if the cows are out escaping for the third straight day, or the freezer just up and quits with all of last year’s harvest in it, or the insurance company has fouled up yet another medical claim. Deadlines only care that they are met and met with suitable prose that brings forth some emotion.
The one piece of advice I always give to aspiring writers is to find time to reflect, which will in turn present a story, a philosophy or an observation that will prove worthy of recording.
“I’m gonna start getting up at 5 a.m.,” I said to Tink, who blinked.
Normally, we rise around 7, have coffee, watch the news, then leisurely start our day around 8 or so.
“Because all of my problems start around 8:30, about the time people get to their offices. So if I get up earlier, I can get some writing done before I have to start fixin’ problems.”
He threw back his head and laughed with gusto. I was not kidding. True, some stories just find you, tackle you and tie you up until you write them. But not always.
Like cutie pie Celia, I have a couple of tricks, too. When I want to write lyrically but my words are stale and uninspired, I read the King James Bible. When I need to get in the mood to write, I often turn to music, particularly writers and singers with whom I have a history. I grew up on country music, so it is still the songs of folks like Bobby Bare, Jerry Reed, Tom T. Hall, and Dolly Parton who draweth me closer to the almighty hand of inspiration.
But mostly I find that it is my moments of quietness, when it is just me and my thoughts, that I can observe and create. On morning runs, it starts with the feeling of day. Sometimes, nature is quite content with itself. Those are the days when the skies are bright and blue, the air holds no humidity, and a gentle breeze whispers sweetly. On those days, the wildlife is equally happy as birds sing, squirrels scamper playfully, and groundhogs emerge from their holes to take a deep breath and enjoy the happiness.
Those are the days that my writing will have a lilt and lightness about it. But other days, when the darkened skies rumble and animals react nervously, I will write with more somberness. It’s as though I feel the complete weight of the world’s burdens in my soul.
Still, the biggest problem I see to writing is all this communication we have going. Someone can always find me by phone, text or email and just plain ruin my inspiration with some stupid something that I’ve got to stop and fix right then.
Come to think about it, maybe I can turn these problems to my good. I can just turn the darkness into good material. Absurd or not.
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