Good Friday to you, my Inklings, thank you for stopping by. Now, you may have guessed from the tentacles on my banner and the fact that I call myself “The Octopus” that I take a great deal of inspiration from nature. In particular, I view the octopus as a marvelous mascot for wordsmiths everywhere and not just because they can squirt ink (but that’s totally part of it).
Octopuses (that’s right, the preferred plural is octopuses! Not octopi, octopodes, or even octopeople) like to collect things. They’ve been seen piling stones into protective fences before they go to sleep and amassing all sorts of crustacean shells and coral bits and anything they find interesting or useful. Some researchers have called this collecting and arranging behavior “fortress building”. Others, due to the eclectic nature of the collections, call these mysterious museums “octopus gardens”.
Now, as writers, we really shouldn’t surround our workspace with the discarded remnants of our food (white cheddar cheetos bags go in the trash!) so a literal application of this habit may be less than helpful. However, I have noticed that I have more than a few near-requirements and writing rituals that serve as my own octopus’ garden. At one time, I used to need to put up a bed sheet fort around my computer. True story. I really felt it helped my concentration.
These days, my octopus’ garden is allowed to be a little more varied than that, but it consists of more than just the objects I surround myself with. I write almost exclusively at night, since where I live the traffic noise is next to nothing a few hours after dark. I listen to music or specific ambient sounds while working on a first draft, themed to elicit the appropriate emotions for whatever I’m writing. I wrote “The Last Voyage of Richard Breen” listening to a recording of a ship creaking on the ocean.
If I have any music on that features a human voice (even without lyrics) I can’t focus. The sound of a human voice creates a character to me within the song, even if they’re not singing any words. Once there’s a character present in the song already, I lose some of my creative freedom to use the song however I wanted to emotionally to get the right words on the page.
I can be incredibly distractible since my Tourette’s Syndrome can be triggered by lots of things and it seems to hamper my ability to focus. My TS causes involuntary mild to extreme (even painful) physical jerking and twitching as well as vocalizations like chirps or squawks. It makes it hard to write, to be quite honest. To maintain my focus, I open my word processor to fill the entire computer screen and set the view to “fit width” so that my letters are almost as big as m&m’s (there’s a lot of junk food in this post, maybe I should compare something to carrot sticks?). I find that making the words huge helps me focus exclusively on the current section or sentence that I’m constructing.
It’s important to my productivity that I do a lot of things the exact same way every time that I write. Predictability with my condition is hard to come by, so I try to create a space that’s always the same and always supporting my creative efforts. Repetition builds habits (both good and bad ones) and so as I find something that works for me I solder it into my routine. If I try something that doesn’t work then I throw it out faster than a rotten old bag of carrot sticks. (Is that better?) I highly recommend tweaking your own routine if you ever find yourself in a rut. You might find that breaking through that writer’s block is as easy as rearranging your garden.
There’s a lot more that I could go into about my process like how I try not to write while hungry or thirsty but for now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have any routines that you would be lost without? What’s your ideal writing area? What does it sound like? Are there snacks? (Can I have some?) Feel free to leave a comment about your “octopus garden” below and have a lovely Easter!
Robert JV Christensen