Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
—1 Peter 5:8 NKJV
I contend that no other artistic medium is as intensely cerebral as writing. But then again, I’m a wee bit biased as I continue to perfect the vocation that chose me rather than the other way around. No other endeavor so intensely integrates my head and my heart, and no other aspiration is as sensitive to the well-being and constancy of both.
Because of the emotion spent during the writing process, I’ve discovered that recklessly depleting the reservoir of creative energy by partaking in fleshly indulgences is not only unwise, it’s potentially self-destructive. Granted, there’s nothing like a jot of angst to coax out some good poetry, and there’s much to be said about a restless night resulting in an inspired essay, but over the years I’ve learned that writing is indeed a joust between me and the devil in the arena of intellect, and there’s nothing Satan would like better than to knock me off my horse. I cannot afford to participate in his head games, so I fight on.
Before I dove into full time writing, I eased into this lifestyle by first transitioning to part time status at my former place of employment. I have a degree in electrical engineering, and for 27 years I plied my trade in the defense industry as both an electronic hardware engineer and as a system integrator. This profession exercised my intellectual capacity, but I fought to merge the logical with the creative throughout my career. As I moved into part time engineering mixed with part time writing, I discovered that switching between logic and creativity was more challenging than I’d imagined.
At first I fixed my schedule to work at the company two 10-hour days per week, Monday and Tuesday. But to accommodate my manager and the company’s desire to retain the best use of my services and capability, I had to settle for working shorter hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I reserved Wednesday and Friday for writing. Each week I’d start out fresh, working my engineering job with as much energy and focus as I could muster. Because I had to work efficiently to squeeze in practically a full week’s worth of effort into 20 hours, I knuckled down, rolled up my analytical sleeves, and focused. Leaving work Tuesday night each week was like stepping out of an August afternoon in Texas and striding into a walk-in cooler—the relief was palpable as I looked forward to Wednesday morning’s writing session. But after a few weeks on this schedule, I realized something: my left brain stubbornly resisted my right brain’s necessity to take over for the day. Like two bickering siblings, my logical mind wouldn’t play nicely with my creative mind, so writing became a wrestling match. Over time my ability to switch from logic to creativity and back again improved, but this experience opened my eyes to the dependence of producing good work on the clarity of my mind. Writing full time magnified this reality even further.
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers,” wrote Isaac Asimov, but if the thinking part is compromised, the writing part will reflect the weakness, and the devil wins the match. Oddly enough, caffeine is my worst offender.
One Sunday morning, as we finished breakfast and prepared to replace rusted-out body panels on my father-in-law’s 1926 Model T Ford Coupe, my wife’s cousin, Dane, said something that resonated in me.
“If I have too much coffee,” he declared, “all I want to do is organize things.”
Ha! I couldn’t believe it—I’m the exact same way. After my first cup of coffee in the morning I can think. After my second cup I can no longer think, but I can do. After my third cup I organize. But I can’t organize my thoughts at all after the first cup. My mind buzzes, scattering any contemplations to the four corners of the office. The writing sucks as I struggle to tie points together in a logical progression to form a blog post, a chapter, or a short story. If I’m doing research, the information I’m reading goes in one eye and out the other; nothing sticks. Over the years I’ve been forced to give up soda and energy drinks because the stimulants upend my thought process. Energy shots wreak havoc with my creativity. Even vitamin B supplements designed to boost energy derail my thinking. They also make me twitch.
Copyright © 2014 by David C. Hughes