Bathtub, Bed or Desk: Thoughts on How We Write

Bathtub, Bed or Desk: Thoughts on How We Write

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the connection between body and mind; how one’s physicality affects one’s mentality and how this relates to creativity. I’ve noticed lots of blogs and magazines ask writers why they write or when they write but for some reason it’s much less common to ask how they write.

I can only think of one case where I know how a writer writes, and that’s from a movie. Well, actually it’s from the trailer of a movie. In the 2015 film about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, actor Bryan Cranston – as Trumbo – is seen pecking away at his typewriter while in the bathtub. Although illustrating an idiosyncratic practice, this scene didn’t make me want to see the movie.  But it did get me to thinking about how we writers go about the preparation for and process of writing.

Rubber Duckies

Sure, your ducks are all in a row. But does writing in a bathtub beside them improve your work?

Chapter six of An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky is all about relaxation. The famous actor/director/theorist advocates for the body to arrive at a state in which tension is absent from the body and only when the mind realizes this can the individual’s creativity be released into the world to maximum effect. Stanislavsky was speaking about acting, but the principles can be applied to everything.

Should one feel comfortable or relaxed as one writes, as Stanislavsky says? I believe there is something to be said about the meditative and yogic techniques involved here; that a relaxed body is conducive to a clear mind that then can ostensibly focus on the craft of writing. But is one more aware of their body if they don’t feel it?

Maybe the reverse is true. Maybe one ought to be under some kind of physical strain and on one’s feet to really be able to write. In this way, might one not feel like they are doing the real work of writing? Wouldn’t a writer feel more like a crafts-person if they worked up a sweat in the process? Can one say writing is work, rather than writing is the creation of art? What is the correlation between those two words, work and creation? Is the concept they each define really just the same thing dressed in semantics?

I used to write without fail in this way: I would seat myself at a table with a window view. The chair would have to be comfortable but keep my posture as proper as though I’d gone to finishing school. I  would then proceed to write on yellow legal pads with number two pencils, re-sharpening the tips after every page. Touching pencil to paper made it feel tangible, connecting mind to body, while forcing myself to sit the way I did made me feel like I was all about getting down to business.

Typewriter and Scissors

Does pecking away on this thing a better writer make? Safety tip: always make sure your scissors are at least four inches from your herbal tea.

I haven’t written that way in about three years. Now one can usually find me in bed, my torso at a 35 degree angle from the mattress and propped by one of those pillows with arms. I have a little writing desk that fits over my hips and support my laptop, on which I now write 90% of the time. I’m not as comfortable as being in bed might indicated–my arms are outstretched to reach the keyboard and I feel a little constricted by the desk.

I don’t know why I made this transition in how I write. I didn’t think about it at the time it first started happening. Call it laziness or convenience, I suppose. The more interesting question is whether or not my writing is better now and, if it is, did graduate school or the change in physicality have the bigger effect? I propose that you, esteemed reader, run some experiments of your own along these lines. You might not notice a measurable difference, but it will get you thinking–and that’s the whole point of writing.