My Squishy Red Couch

When I entered college, I was suddenly required to write—and to take notes in class. My days in high school writing fanfiction in a spiral notebook while Coach “Drone-On” was discussing the civil war were over. I was completely unprepared. I needed to find a way to squeeze in hours of homework along with a suddenly active social life (they didn’t have those back in the small rural Texas town where I went to high school). Something in my life had to give and I decided, rather foolishly in retrospect, that of everything, sleep was the least necessary. At this point I discovered a tendency to binge on Mt. Dew and chocolate, pulling all-nighter after all-nighter to spew words onto a page. Sometimes I wrote for pleasure, but more often it was for an assignment. I’m not sure which part of my new lifestyle was the least healthy, but combined it was a terrible force to be reckoned with that my system still has yet to recover from.

I came to a few realizations about what helped me to write during those exhausting years, so the self-induced torture sessions actually had some lasting worth. I couldn’t listen to music with vocals in it without trying to pay attention the lyrics and not my writing. So I would queue up my Final Fantasy soundtracks on my Zune—I was too cool (cheap) for an iPod—and delve into my writing. It was the perfect amount of background noise to drown out the sound of other people typing.

Out of extreme laziness, I discovered another writing assist. I didn’t want to haul a backpack full of reference books up three steep flights of stairs only to find out halfway through my paper that the books weren’t what I needed after all, so I took to writing in the bowels of Watson library. If I was lucky, I could find a desk where the overhead lights only flickered occasionally. I nearly gave up when I turned on my computer and couldn’t access any wi-fi networks, but then I looked at the mountain of books, remembered how much I’d struggled just getting them all the ten feet to the desk, and decided I could tough it out, just that once. When I finished the assignment, it felt like I’d been down there for hours, possibly days. I was suffering extreme Facebook withdrawals. But after looking at the time, I realized that I’d written the paper in about a quarter of the time it took when I had access to the internet.

Over the final two years of my college career, I perfected the technique. It quickly descended into a quantity over quality approach to writing as I rushed through assignments so that I could go check the latest staff updates.  Thi method is one I heartily recommend for college students trying to squeeze short stories in between lengthy research papers that all coincidentally happen to be due the same week, but not for people who with aspirations to publish.

Then I went and graduated college. I was too busy job hunting to devote any time to writing something that wasn’t a resume and for a while I despaired of ever having time to write again.

The inevitable happened: inspiration struck me and I suddenly couldn’t write enough. I spent two weeks typing furiously, turning out words faster than I thought humanly possible. I wrote from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep… with the occasional pit stop for food. And after two weeks, I was burnt out. I then attempted to bribe myself into writing which was great for the word count but not so much on the bank account. A new pair of heels every few weeks adds up pretty quickly. I attempted to set goals and deadlines for myself. That didn’t work with the same successful results as bribery.

As I plucked along at my story, I began to realize that while I absolutely loathed mornings, it was when I did my best writing. I could turn out a few hundred fairly decent words in the extra twenty minutes I had before leaving for work in the morning. The issue came in motivating myself to get out of bed when my alarm went off rather than hitting snooze until the last possible moment—or snuggling into bed with my smart phone checking Facebook where the cold couldn’t reach me.

NaNo kicked my ass into gear. I had to learn how to productively schedule my writing around a full-time job without burning myself out. There was a whole group of people holding me accountable. The internet itself was holding me accountable. I could squeeze in anywhere from a couple hundred words to just shy of a thousand words in the morning if I actually got up on time. Lunch breaks became quick sandwiches I’d thrown together the night before and a laptop with an open word-page. By the time I got home in the afternoon, I usually only need another five hundred words maximum to meet my quota for the day. Remember when I said that I’d written faster than I thought humanly possible? During NaNo I discovered that my old pace was embarrassingly slow. That sort of writing wouldn’t get me to fifty-thousand words in a month.

Yet somehow I managed to write twice as much in a day for twice as many weeks without burning myself out. What was different this time around? Over the summer I traded in my beat up old couch that had changed hands so many times in the past two decades that nobody quite knew where it came from for a brand new squishy red couch. It was the perfect level of support that I needed and that made all the difference. Comfort is apparently important when you’re writing.

In November, I discovered what I needed to write:  Early mornings, Final Fantasy soundtracks, coffee, structure, deadlines, and most importantly… my squishy red couch. What’s your squishy red couch?

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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