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“My Squelchy Haircut Betrayed Me”  John Caruso
 Oct 18, 2004 13:28 PDT 

“My Squelchy Haircut Betrayed Me”

When we write we strive to enter “the zone.” Once we’re in the zone, it
feels like we can do no wrong, like writing is just something handed
down by the gods from their lofty perches. If you’ve been there, you
know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I don’t know if a
ream of my ramblings can convey the experience.

About a week and a half ago, I planted myself firmly at a coffeehouse
table. With a steaming cup and my rumpled notebook (I tend to write
“hard” leaving grooves in the paper and causing the pages to curl and
crinkle), I began working on a character sketch. I floundered for a
while, getting grumpier because nothing was coming to me. Then an idea
came. Eventually, another came, and down on paper it went. Those led to
more ideas. Those to more. Before I knew it, an idea deluge had hit. I
wrote, frantically and madly. In retrospect, I’m sure I looked
crazed—mostly because I was. But who cared? I was in “the zone.”

Everything I wrote felt right. It all made sense. It tumbled into place
as if entropy had never been invented. When I finally drew to a close, I
looked at my watch. I stared at it, not understanding what it said.
According to Timex, an hour and a half whooshed by. I shook my head, but
the colors of the world around me crackled, looked different, sharper.
My brain felt squishy. I couldn’t keep the idiotic grin from my face
even if I wanted to; and I didn’t want to. For the next half hour or so,
I rode the writer’s high. A few more random idea after-shocks continued
to hit, and I dutifully jotted them down.

I felt a bit guilty claiming the writing session as my own. I could make
a strong case for not even being in my body when my hand inked the page.
But there was my handwriting, all scratchy and jagged and frantic.

At first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. I only knew I wanted to
work on a character sketch. OK, that was all well and good I thought,
but I still had no idea where to start or how to proceed. I began by
simply jotting down random thoughts. A phrase here, a sentence there:
just clusters of words. Then I wrote the phrase, “my squelchy haircut
betrayed me.” I wrote a few more things, but kept returning to that
phrase. I wanted to ignore it, but there was just something about it....

So I gave in and wrote. That phrase led to an incident in my character’s
childhood that was a “defining moment” for him. That moment illustrated
his relationship with his mother. That relationship led to me exploring
his relationship with his father. Childhood begat high school which
begat college (a failed endeavor for my character). Before I knew it,
Nick was in the middle of Omaha, Nebraska getting punched in the face.
Suddenly I had a character and a story.

So why am I going on about this? Simply because we never know from where
that next bolt of inspiration will come. Too often I find myself
suppressing creativity without realizing it—and the odds are pretty good
that you’ve done it a few times as well. It may be our “inner critic”
screaming about how we don’t make sense (or, worse, that we don’t have
any business writing). It may be our fear of exposing ourselves on the
page. It may be that we’re having a low self-confidence day. But
whatever it is, I know there are times I avoid my creativity. Sure, that
sounds silly—counterintuitive, even—but it’s true (and I think you know
what I’m talking about).

When I finally revisited the squelchy haircut, I was amazed at how much
fertile ground waited for me. A part of me—that deep, instinctive,
lizard brain part that just “knows”—screamed at me until I listed. Of
course I understand it shouldn’t take so much to get me in touch with
creativity, but it did.

So for the next few weeks, I want you to listed to your instincts. Don’t
hold back. Don’t avoid your creativity. Write what comes and don’t
question it. Let squelchy haircuts betray your resistance.

Now go scribble something.

John Caruso

Copyright 2004, John Caruso
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