Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Aren't You Writing? No Excuses, Please.

I worry about you. Not all of you, but some of you.

After years of raising kids, animals, and generally meeting the needs of others, I've had a lot of experience at worrying. I do it efficiently, not wasting it on things that can't be changed, but focusing on how to make things better if it's at all possible. Call it a weakness, but I've always done it, and I probably always will. My children need very little of my worry time now, and seem to be managing perfectly well. I don't have any particular money issues, so no demands there. There's no Grand Passion in my life, so I don't need to waste time wondering what he's getting up to. My health is good. My neighbors are nice. Jeevesie has had a bit of a cough, but I'm not so worried that I've felt the need to rush him off to the vet. Deciding where to live is an on-going challenge for me, one I'm constantly examining, but I wouldn't call it a problem.

This frees my worry-time up to concentrate on you. Why aren't you writing more? I know you're writing some, but it doesn't look like a lot, from where I'm sitting. You seem to spend rather a lot of time discussing what you intend to write, along with detailing all sorts of other goals vaguely related to that, but I don't think many of you are following Dorothy Parker's famous adage,
"Writing is the Art of Applying the Ass to the Seat."
Look, you all want to write, I can see. The passion in your blogs, the firmness of your resolve, the excitement in your plans - they all prove you were born to be writers. But you don't seem to be producing much. Why is that?

Don't talk about writer's block, because we all know we can work through that with the act of writing. Don't say you haven't the time, what with work, school, lovers, spouses, children and pets. Most of our writing occurs in our heads when we're not at the computer. It happens in all the oddest or most mundane places. All you need to do is to record it. Take that great dialogue that was running around in your mind the whole time you were dining with friends, or while you were doing the laundry, and get it onto your hard drive.

You can squeeze in an hour a day somewhere, if you really want to. Think of it as your morning workout time, but for the soul, and get up half an hour earlier. Tonight, be firm with yourself and get out of the living room and away from that TV (there's really not that much worth watching, be honest!) and put in half an hour at your computer before bed.

An amazing thing is going to happen if you do this. You'll find that the half hour is not enough, that you haven't quite finished what you wanted to say. You'll scrape up more time, somehow, and you will feel wonderful because of it. You'll find you can't wait to go the manuscript, can't wait to finish what you started to write at 10 pm the night before.

As a reminder, unless you are the slowest writer in the world, one hour should produce about three pages, or around 750 words. You should write as quickly as you can, just getting the words down, and letting your thoughts flow. Don't spend more than a minute re-thinking a word or phrase, because you'll come back to it later and immediately know what you were looking for. (And, sometimes, you won't know until the book is almost ready for an agent!) These pages could well be imperfect to your eye, but that's fine. Perfection comes later. Someone said that the real writing comes with the final revision. And that comes with a whole new set of devilish obstacles that you can face down the road. Let's just concentrate on your initial draft.

The time is for being frivolous with your thoughts, adventurous with your plots, bold with your characters. If the dialogue is proving to be a laborious slog, just get the main points down with the notation "blah, blah, blah". Throughout the day, your characters will have those conversations in your head, believe me, and you'll replace those "blah" bits easily when you get home. You can revise the whole thing, picking up obvious spelling or grammatical errors then. (But remember the little Typo-Imp will arrive later, despite all your efforts.) Or you could leave it all for the weekend and revise all of your week's work at one sitting, because you can spare a little more time on the weekend, right? This might be the perfect routine for you. Unload through the week - inadequate thoughts or brilliant ones - and refine on Sunday.

You should then have a satisfying 4,000 good words to boast about.

Do this for a month (16,000 words!), and then take a little break. You deserve it. Not for long, now, because you don't want to permanently break your new schedule. A week or two should do it.

Please be strong and ignore your must-read blogs during your half-hour writing time. Don't be seduced by a catchy headline in your Reader. I know you need to research things, that you still need clarity on some points, but save that for a separate session. Your own writing is more important than anything else that's out there.

You must keep up with your book-reading, however. This is where your writing-bug came from in the first place, and where you'll find renewed energy for your own work. Even if it's only half an hour before you turn out the light, it's valuable.

I don't want to have this discussion with you again. It's unfair to make me worry like this.

Oh, and just to get you in a competitive frame of mind, which doesn't hurt, I completed almost 8,000 well-revised words for Strachan's Attic this weekend, after a couple of weeks of ruminating, and I'm past the 50% point in my final draft.

Now, let's see what you can do.


Melissa Marsh said...

What an inspiring speech, Fran! Well done. I find there are far too many people who TALK about writing, but never WRITE. I used to be in that camp. No longer!

Fran said...

We all do it, and must be firm with ourselves. Did you see the HBO/BBC Churchill story "Into the Storm last night? Beautifully done.

Johanna said...

I feel like I should begin this comment with an apology for reading your blog instead of putting my proverbial "BUT IN CHAIR"! Alas, I'm not sorry, I'm inspired!

My issue however (and maybe you can assist - since your children are grown and my 3 are in the next room arguing...)is that my first manuscript is done and I'm busy sending and researching who to send to and reworking my query and and and... So now my second work is stagnating at 15000 words b/c I can't get excited enough with all the other &*&*&(!!!

Glad to hear that I should still be reading b/c my side table is layered with books I want to read but am passing over for the almighty query which I keep trying to perfect...

Thanks for worrying about us in the blogishphere!

Embee said...

Thanks for the pep talk! I have actually been writing almost every day and making good progress. Things seem to be flowing well, but I do easily get distracted by twitter, blogs, facebook, e-mail, and oh yeah, work and family, and blah blah blah. I am still managing to get some writing done, so that makes me happy! But 8000 words is really impressive, wow!

Fran said...

Johanna, Your queries can be done once a week, two or three at a time, cutting and pasting the best of each to suit the agent. Don't spend more time on them, but let them build up gradually. In no time at all, you'll have sent out twenty, with perhaps 6 rejections, and some requests for partials. The first book is done! Work on your current one. Love the one you're with...

Bonnie Kozek said...


i think writing not only comes down to getting your ass in a chair, but to something much harder: self-discipline. although it seems counter-intuitive, in a sense, to fiction writing ... for me getting to it is anything but spontaneous. i need a schedule ... a military-type schedule! ... and i find that if i deviate from my schedule ... even the slightest bit .. everything goes straight to hell. then it can take me days or even weeks to get back on schedule. however, when i stick to it ... well, at the end i've got a book. i don't use "word-counts" as a goal. my goal everyday, when i sit down to write, is to find the word ... the exact word ... the perfect word to follow the exact perfect word it will follow. so, if anyone is out there is a writer like me, i suggest that, when writing, consider that you're now in boot-camp -- where, if you don't follow the rules, and if you give any lip -- you'll be out on your ass, without the proverbial seat!

sallyhanan said...

It's like everything in life--it doesn't matter how you "feel", you just need to grit your teeth and get on with it.

As for the cost of a book editor, most editors will review the whole book for around $200--very worth it to get the book to where it needs to be. They tell you what needs to be changed and you can do the grunt work.

Belle said...

What an inspiring post! Recently I decided to really commit to a writing goal - just half an hour a day. And then, to give myself the discipline, I decided to blog about it every day. I'm not sure what it says about me, but it's the regular posts on my blog that are doing the trick - it's great butt glue, that's for sure.

Fran said...

I agree, Belle,

The blog, wherein I committed to my fiction in a sort of mission statement, has been a huge help in getting me back on track. I'd let my writing slide for years! I know Avoidance well.

Eric said...

This is a great post, and yes it does hit a nerve. Thank you for being the drill sgt that all of us badly need. I'm headed to my manuscript now. I promise.