In Frank Capra’s film about a group of people who are on a hijacked plane that crashes in the Himalayan Mountains, Lost Horizon, the arduous journey through narrow, snowbound mountain passes leads them to Shangri-La, a beautiful region hidden from the cold, an area that has perfect climate and magical properties. A small utopian society has been established there led by a High Lama who is looking for a successor now that he recognizes he is about to die. The aging process there being decelerated, he is now hundreds of years old. Based on the 1933 novel by James Hilton, the film is now a Capra classic. For me, it is a metaphor of the repetitive journey to reach the zone, that place of focus when I can write freely, immersed in a project. Getting there is not easy for me. It sometimes feels as if I am trudging through snow, blinded by a blizzard. I don’t always make it. But when I do make it, clarity occurs. I can write with focus, come up with ideas, and concentrate. While there, I am not deterred by the “outside” world. In the film the main character, Robert Conway, leaves Shangri-La but regrets it and much later manages to find it again. I am still finding ways to get myself to that place where I am the most productive and focused, and though occasionally I can slip into it without too much strain, other days it feels like an onerous effort that may or may not succeed. Once there, I am reluctant to leave. As Annie Proulx said in an interview, “when I’m in the groove, believe me, I’m in the groove. Nothing gets in the way. I do it.” However, she adds, “I don’t have a routine. I struggle to find time to write” (Paris Review).
Many of my writer friends do not struggle in the same way. A few are able to get to the zone quickly, without incident or struggle. One friend is a binge writer. She escapes to a timeshare or mountain cabin and writes steadily for weeks though she may not write again for a long time. Other friends are the proverbial daily writers, up early or late, with regular patterns, hammering out a few pages at each sitting. Each writer I question has a specific routine, pattern, or method that might involve a variety of elements. Some writers prefer to write in the same place, a desk or the dining room table, while others like to mix it up by writing in hotel lobbies, coffee houses, or parks. Some write in longhand, others only on the computer, and some on old-fashioned typewriters. Whatever the elements, I am interested in what I am calling “writing customs,” the settings that writers choose, the writing process, writing habits, and writing preferences, and these things are at the heart of this blog.
Last year, I spent a lot of time at Starbucks and found that I had good concentration there. A story, just published in an online literary magazine, emerged out of my times at a few Starbucks locales (Shark Reef Literary Magazine). Although I have seen myself as a home-desk kind of writer, and I enjoy the micro-environment of my desk space, more often than I would have thought I find myself in public spaces, writing with the desired abandon, inspired by the atmosphere around me.
I invite you to share your ideas, preferences, and writing customs.
(Painting, “A Clear Horizon,” by Eric Peavy).