Getting Started

Lately I’ve been working on (though for the majority of this week, I’ve actually been avoiding) switching over a website from a table-based design to one that only uses cascading stylesheets. This is something I could talk about all day, but I made a vow before I started writing that I would not geek out on you, and I will stick to that. What I will tell you is that, to me, writing a successful stylesheet (and the corresponding markup) is like creating a delicate artwork, where so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens on creating a pixel-perfect balance, where everything exists in a very specific order. See, I haven’t really done very much writing in the past year or so, but I have done a pretty fair amount of communing with CSS and XHTML, and I’ve come to look at hand coding a website’s design as a pretty gratifying creative outlet. Yes, CSS is poetic, and all of its elements, from faux columns to negative margins, are its building blocks. It may not do the same thing for you, but something like this is poetry to me:

.header {
font-family: trebuchet ms, arial, sans-serif;
font-size: 15px;
color: black;
background: #e3ffc1;
border: 1px solid black;
text-align: center;
font-weight: bold;
letter-spacing: 3px;
padding: 5px;

Whatever. You say Coleridge, I say Zeldman.

As it is with creating anything, it can be a very frustrating process, but getting everything right is incredibly satisfying. Like winning something, only better. Because taking a mental image and making it into something real, using only letters, words, and occasional bits of punctuation is a good thing to be able to do. Any writer (whether the medium is pixels or poems) knows this.

But sometimes, no matter how much I may even want to, getting started is difficult. Especially if I know that the work is going to be really hard or beyond my comfortable range of knowledge. I’ve found that lately, I’ve had to trick myself into getting into a creative mindset, because I’ve mostly felt like ignoring this aforementioned website (since I keep breaking it instead of fixing it). And this usually works — if I fire up the ol’ iPod and stare at an HTML file long enough, eventually I start typing, moving blocks of information around, celebrating what I fix and cursing what I break. It doesn’t take too much of this before I’m completely absorbed. Lost in the process. Totally in the zone. Forgetful of the fact that I had to trick myself to get there. Wondering if there’s a better feeling than abandoning myself to the act of creation.

But enough about me. It’s time to talk about you. What does it take to get you into a creative frame of mind? Do you wake up that way, or do you sometimes have to work at it? How do you get yourself started? And once you have, what are you like once you’re in the zone? Do you have to follow a specific process every time, or do you vary it?

9 Responses

  1. The Truth, Zen, &
    The Truth, Zen, & Frenzy

    I’m trying to figure out, when you do the computer stuff, do you get to pick what words you use, or is it happenstance, and you find that it looks like poetry afterward. I should start to look for poetry in my politics books with school. Hmm, I don’t know. That may take a while for that.

    If the creative bug crawls into me, and someone calls to go to a hockey game or down the pub,I will probably bypass those things in life, to focus on the creative thing. For it doesn’t strike too much! Then it’s time to write or write a song. None of this tries to see the light of day.

    Caffeine, reggae, techno and rage at writers who are published and better than me (at least in my age goup writing about our generation) are what flows through me during the creative process. When I’m in the creative “zone” I think about nothing. My mind is zen till I’m done with the work and then I can look at it and think! And perhaps wonder why most of it sits there on a computer screen (or paper) and I am not trying to send it to try to get published somewhere.

  2. Collect Data and Keep NotesI
    Collect Data and Keep Notes

    I try to always have a notepad with me so I can record observations and any sudden insights. I remember a friend who I worked with who always used to light a cigarette when he had a new problem. I sit at the keyboard and transcribe notes. If I’m without a PC, I write longhand but the word processor makes editing so easy. I got 2,000 words done yesterday which is a new personal record but much of it came from old notes. Constant practice can help you so you can put your head where you want it but it takes a natural to be a story teller which I wish I was. As Robert Stone says: tell a tale, tell it well, and remember the entertainment factor. Shaw said to remember the effect.

    I’m almost the happiest when I’m writing because I naively feel I’m getting closer to my goals.

    I’ve been listening to the above sight, which has interviews with several beats. It’s important to get as much done as possible because it’s all on-the-job training. If one ever hits a home run, the old stuff’s there, ready to be peddled.

  3. thank you Warren for that
    thank you Warren for that Interview site – maya angelou, allen ginsberg
    the zone boggles

  4. PracticeBeing a zenophile, I

    Being a zenophile, I am big on practice, in the two senses of the word: exercises and developing “a practice.” I wake up every morning and write in my journal for at least a half hour if not longer. Then I move onto my writing practice, which I do “religiously” for one hour a day–writing fresh poetry or revising or both. I often start with haiku as a warm up since in some ways it is less intimidating and in others more concentrated. (I write haibun, which is a combo of prose and short poems too, a wonderful way to get going; try it!)

    I realized one thing in doing this every day: you can’t always be in the “zone” and you have to be willing to write bad stuff and be tolerant of that.

    I also have 2 writing buddies per week for free writes and exercises, a lovely way to share work both freshly written and critique too. I am in a critique group as well that meets every two weeks. Plus I am taking 2 workshops that require a poem a week. So though I don’t have answers really about getting into the “zone” I do have some ideas about getting started and keeping it up.

  5. another site of
    another site of interest:

    google factory + poetry

    one of the most extensive collections of audio recordings of poets (and writers) reading their work and sometimes delivering lectures

    It is amazing!

  6. I like that you said your
    I like that you said your mind is zen. Wonderful way to put it! The best writing often occurs that way. At least I think so. And it is certainly true with haiku and other forms related.

  7. dreamssome ten years ago, I

    some ten years ago, I woke up with the idea that I might write a poem that was in my mind yet. so, my creation was spare and it came up in spasmodic pulses. today, I think “I must write a poem about something strange that happened to me during the week. and my creation follows an order — I still don’t know what it is — and flows harmonic. I never write a poem if I know that isn’t ready yet. it seems that it needs a process of rising, and it must do this process in a place that seems to be nowhere. certainly, there is a point in which the words do gel. and you need to be alert…

  8. poemcrazyThis is an

    This is an interesting topic. I have been struggling with and thinking about the creative process this past week. I seem to have my best thoughts about 4 AM when I have neither the wherewithal or energy to act on them. I try to jot down thoughts in little notebooks that I keep around. I recently read a book that was helpful to the creative process called POEMCRAZY by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. The book contains a number of excercises to get the juices flowing and the pen going. Music is also a great muse for me. I particularly like the jazz program on NPR on Fridays.

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