Today, I went to the Tully’s coffee shop in the Fry’s Marketplace and bought a vanilla latte and two glazed donuts. One of the baked goods was gone before I put my car in gear to drive home. The other sits next to my computer, glistening and shining. I want to stuff it in my mouth right now. But I won’t. Not until I finish writing. Anyway, the donut is a poor substitute for my normal doggy treat: a hot, buttered biscuit.
We humans like to believe we’re more complicated and intelligent than the rest of the creatures on the planet. Sure, sure. Of course we are. Yet I have to confess — I’m easily motivated by my baser instincts. Like Pavlov’s dog, I can be trained to drool and run and write, with the right incentive. To be clear, I’m not talking habits, you know, the up-at-dawn-still-hungover-from-drinking-the-night-before Hemingway Style or in-lucky-pants-with-the-pen-your-father-bought-you-for-graduation. I’m talking about what actually gets you to the desk.
I’d be lying if I said that it’s the earthshaking awesomeness of writing that gets me there. During the dark days of thesis, I tried a million different techniques to make writing fun. I wrote in bed under the covers like I was hiding from my mother. (This made writing dangerous and therefore exciting) I composed whole poems in my head, not allowing myself to write one word down until it was complete. (This lead to many lost Pulitzer Prize winning poems) I made up word games, and poem prompts, and sang my poems in the shower.
But in the end, appealing to my rumbly tumbly was the best incentive for me. Jess Walter’s Cookie Compromise is legend among our program, so I tried it. I knew I wouldn’t get up early every morning for a cookie (OR ANYTHING) but I would damn sure stay up every night for a buttermilk biscuit.
Why a biscuit? I was feeling homesick and missing the deadly decadence of Southern cuisine. It became a ritual for me to turn on the oven and go to my desk. I’d pull up old drafts and revise while I waited for the oven to preheat. Then I’d put the biscuit in the oven knowing I had twenty minutes to pump out something, anything. Twenty minutes is not a long time. Twenty minutes is barely enough time to write your name in acceptable cursive. Still I found that I love being in a bit of a panic. And smelling the rising dough made it easier to think of creative ways to say men suck. Except for Jess Walter.
And when’s the last time you had a biscuit? It’s not really a food one should be eating every day. I found out the hard way. When my boyfriend TJ (who also doesn’t suck) came home after being gone for three months, he patted my butt and said, “Mmm, eat more biscuits.” I immediately cut back. But that’s why it works so well. I knew I was consuming 210 empty calories but this is the price I was willing to pay. I’m an artist and we have to make sacrifices for our craft.
The point is incentive. Not motivation. Of course, I write because I want to express myself, to share my feelings with the world and all kinds of other touchy emo shit. But it can be hard to find a reason to keep doing that on a day-to-day basis, without incentives. So go ahead, tap into your inner animal. Admit that you like to have your belly rubbed. And find what will send you to the desk, when nothing else will, like a biscuit. Or the other donut. Which I am eating right now.