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How I Do This

what I’ve learned from filling this page with words for nine years

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier

As you read this, I’m probably doing something awesome like soaking in a bathtub full of essential oils and flower petals as I sip expensive liqueurs and sample exquisite cheeses and listen to a jazz quintet quietly improvising over in the corner of my bathroom. I’ve got one of those old-timey silver trays affixed across my claw-footed tub so as to keep my writing materials (parchment, quill, inkwell, etc.) water- and essential oil-free.   

It’s just how I like to write. It’s how I relax. It’s no big thing.

Once I’m sufficiently (and pleasantly) unwound, I’m able to unlock the door to a beautiful room in my mind I like to call “Mike’s Writing Lounge.” Only once I’ve entered The Lounge can I invent enough verb-n-noun sequences to fill the very page you are now viewing in a magazine or on your digital computing machine. Sometimes the door to the lounge sticks and it takes a lot of pushing and shoving to loosen the hinges. Sometimes it only opens when you’ve poured enough coffee and/or beer into it. And sometimes it’s just sitting there wide open with my favorite song playing on the imaginary hi-fi.

Do I imagine things? Of course I do. As I’m typing this, I’m riding a winged triceratops through space and shooting lasers out of my eyes at enemy space monkeys in my imagination. And see? I just wrote all of that down because I’m a writer. So here I am in Mike’s Writing Lounge, realizing that I’ve been writing this column for over nine years, reflecting upon the typing of all those words, and wondering if I’ve learned anything from the experience and whether or not people might care about what that might be.

Have I learned anything? Yes. Would you care about it? No, probably not. But I’m going to talk about it anyway. Here are a few writing tips I’ve learned over the years ...

First and foremost, start writing now. Just do it. Stop reading this and go write. Get a full draft yanked out of your head. Then rewrite it. Then show it to someone. Then rewrite it again. Then have a drink. Then rewrite it some more. Only through the magical boredom of revision will you produce anything someone else will ever want to read, and even then it’s kind of a crap shoot.

Do I write early and often and give myself plenty of time for revisions? Oh hell, no. Never. But I should, so let’s just focus on that.

Secondly, imagine things. Because you can’t write things without first imagining the things you want to write about. It’s just the way it works, Bucko. If you can’t imagine things, you should do something else, like watch celebrity chefs scream at non-celebrity chefs on television.

Do I imagine things? Of course I do. As I’m typing this, I’m riding a winged triceratops through space and shooting lasers out of my eyes at alien space monkeys in my imagination. And see? I just wrote all of that down because I’m a writer.

Thirdly, write while sitting on one of those balance ball things. That way, you can strengthen your core muscles while you engage in the exciting battle we call “writing.” Nothing helps you pound out the paragraphs like rock hard abs.

Do I write while maintaining perfect posture, ensuring the physical longevity required for a lifetime of writing? No. But I should. And if you ever need a huge belly laugh, bring me a balance ball and ask me to sit on it. It’ll give you a fantastically visual story to write about.

Fourthly, get to know the English language. Or whatever language you’re writing in, if you are not writing in English, as I do all the time. A solid command of syntax (or the ability to fake it) transforms your writing toolbox into a writing toolshed. For example, did you know “fourthly” is a real, not made up word that means the same as “fourth?” I did.

Fifthly (also a word), never underestimate the power of good non sequitur. Sometimes, when approaching the end of your page, you may need to tie things up with a wild change of direction because maybe all of this is happening in the mind of a robot sitting at a desk, sipping from a cup of freshly brewed organic, fair-trade robot coffee. You, me, the squirrels outside, the burning stars above ... all of it conjured up by dazzling explosions of electricity running across wires planted deep within the titanium skull of a handsome mandroid as it stares at a blank sheet of paper tucked neatly into its old fashioned typewriter.

Or maybe not.