Saturday, March 1, 2008

every day

Question: Do you write every day?

Answer: Well, yeah. Didn't you read the previous post?

The question goes more to the idea of discipline. Many successful, experienced writers recommend setting a specific time and place to write every day. I think it's good advice, and Lord knows I've tried it many times over, but I've never really gotten the hang of it. I can list several reasons (excuses) why.

1. Time management. I suck at it. All my life. Every job evaluation I've ever received has criticized me for poor time management. I blame it on being Italian. The Italians are stereotypically notorious for being poor planners. And really, when you live in Italy, who wants to plan anything? The only time I effectively managed my time was during the final months of my masters thesis. I accounted for and scheduled every moment of the day save bathroom breaks. And doing so worked, too. I almost always stuck to the schedule. Of course, I would spontaneously break out in bouts of weeping every so often, but it didn't throw me off schedule.

The key to my success back then was that I did everything in 60 - 90 minute increments with lots of breaks in between. I devoted between 90 and 180 minutes per day to my thesis, depending on which day it was. And that time could be used in a number of ways--either to read and annotate an article, to work on a chapter, to re-read the previous chapter, the aforementioned weeping, etc.

I haven't had many deadlines since then--certainly not any where a diploma or a paycheck depended on it. I've had word count quotas, though. When I did nanowrimo (for more info, see, I usually wrote every night before bedtime, and didn't stop until I hit 2000 words. As it turned out, this was a bad idea and one of the reasons why I won't do nanowrimo anymore. It gave way to very bad, wordy, passive writing and a hellish revision process. I've still got a manuscript in shambles because of it.

2. Flexible work hours. In terms of my personality and work-type, this is a bonus for me. I never liked the 9-5 Mon-Fri workweek. As a college instructor, my teaching schedule changes every four months, more or less. I love the variety, and so long as that schedule does not involve 8am or Saturday classes, then I'm all set. The downside? I have difficulty sticking to other kinds of routines, such as mealtimes, exercise, and, of course, writing. And when it's time to grade papers? Forget it. And I almost always have a stack of papers to read and respond to.

3. Process. Wasn't it Truman Capote who was sitting in a cafe w/ a friend, and the friend asked, "Did you write anything today?"
He answered, "I wrote one word today."
"One word? You only wrote one word all day?"
"Yes," he answered, "But it was the right word."
Some days I just don't write physically. I need the time to think. To compose in my mind before I put it on the page. My first novel came rather quickly to me in terms of the physical act of writing. The reason? I'd had the idea since 1999 and had five years to think about it before deciding to actually write it (that's a story for another post: when I found out I could write fiction). This past summer, I read over a dozen books, but got to the point where I was not writing very much -- at least nothing of significance. But I thought about those writing projects, every day. And eventually, I was ready to get back to the page.

It's the eventually that's the problem, though. Because sometimes it does take too long. Sometimes I get writers block, get scared that it's never gonna get done. Sometimes I succumb to watching the same Law&Order CI re-run for the umptieth time. At that point, discipline has to be a decision, a commitment, without shoulding all over yourself for not getting on the ball sooner.

My latest novel takes place in a cafe/bookstore. The protagonist is the owner. And lately I've been having fantasies of following in her footsteps. But here's the thing: I want to own it, not run it. I want to be in it, not work in it. Imagine being able to make a living as a writer! Imagine being a full-time novelist! I envy you, Stephen King. I actually saw Cormac McCarthy's one and only interview w/ Oprah Winfrey, of all people, and I was fascinated by his discussion about knowing that he never wanted to work for a living. Somehow, before he got published and sold movie rights, he survived w/out working. How? How does one choose that? I won't even go back to get my PhD or MFA because I have cable and want to keep it just so I can watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report! More importantly, because I have health insurance! I may even be able to get my own washer-dryer soon!

My point is this: if I could live as a full-time writer, then I would certainly be better at setting my own hours to write. Or so I say; Lord help me when the Law&Order CI marathon comes on again. But dear reader, dear aspiring writer, if you can, write every day. Make it a decision, a commitment. Write something, anything. Write at 8:00 every morning or 9:00 every night. Write one word. Write the right word. Just write.

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