The Magic of Sitting at a Desk (or The Discipline of Flannery O’Connor)

I have written throughout my school years, straight through college. In fact, I wrote my first “novel” when I was a sophomore. It was called Perfect Words. It was a mess, but it was the first time I realized I was good with characters, because despite its gaping plot holes and bad psychology, one reader told me that the ending made him feel like “I had hit him in the face with a shovel.” No joke. Because everyone dies in the end, after I had cultivated this beautiful romance.

During that time, I also learned that screenwriting was really easy, and I wrote three scripts. One of them is absolutely perfect. The other two… they’re not bad.

My first job after college was a “security camera operator,” which meant that I sat in a small room with 35 monitors, and called a manager when I believed someone was shop-lifting. I didn’t write at this time as much as I created several plots for stories. I also caught up on my reading: I read the classic novels that I should have read in high school and/or college, but never did, like Frankenstein.

I didn’t write while I was teaching. One of the rules during my first teaching position was that you should never be caught sitting behind your computer; You should always be in front of the class or among the students. This stuck with me throughout the three years I was a teacher, so I rarely got any writing done.I came up with stories in my mind, but they hardly ever landed on paper.

The only exception is The Afflicted. I don’t remember when I started it – it must have been over Christmas break while I was living in Florida, but I remember writing parts of it at my desk at school, and creating a character based on the dean of students. (Funny story: His name is Panucci, but I couldn’t remember it for some reason. I convinced myself it was Puccini, which means “Carthaginian,” and the character’s name ended up being Major Barca. Panucci actually means “sweet bread.” This is how names happen in my mind.)

All of this is to say that I find it incredibly difficult to write unless I am bound to a desk for extended periods of time, regularly. I will have the yearning to write, but will find that the words won’t flow like they should. I have very little discipline to force myself to sit at a desk in a room, but when I was a student, camera operator, and now (I’m tech support for educational software, and there are long lulls between cases), I found myself writing without thinking. It just came naturally. Desk = writing.

When I was a senior in high school, my dad and I made a pilgrimage to Milledgeville. I was in AP Lit, and we read Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find (I was also going through a Brad Dourif phase; I couldn’t find Wise Blood on video, but I could read the book!). I was just learning that Georgia has a rich cultural history. We didn’t go anywhere specific, like O’Connor’s house, but we did go traipsing around the cemetery, and I found her grave. (This is a challenge, because it’s small and uses her real first name, which was Mary.)

I aspire one day to be like Flannery O’Connor – to have the discipline to sit at my desk for four hours a day (or however long it was), and just to write, to start when it’s time to start, and to stop (maybe) when it’s time to stop.

On the other hand, I could be like John Milton. Legend says Dr. John Stege says that Milton would compose Paradise Lost in his sleep, and when he woke in the morning, he would dictate it perfectly to one of his daughters. That would be so much more convenient than rolling over in the dark and tapping a scene into the memo app on your phone!

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