Showing Up

I came across this article on writers and settling down to write, and how this particular writer gets himself in the mood or zone to write . . . and I’m thinking, well, I guess everyone’s different.  Every writer has his or her own process, but to be very honest, most of the successful writers I know set up schedules, whether these are writing schedules (setting aside time to actually write) or publication schedules.  Doing anything less is a set-up for failure, IMHO.  Yeah, it’s true that there will be lost days; I’ve had a few this week because of family obligations.  I also knew they were coming and so made sure to get myself to a place in my current WIP where I felt comfortable leaving it alone (essentially, the end of a section, where all the action has to shift anyway).  But I only got there by being disciplined about it: making my word count, keeping to my schedule.

So–honestly–I don’t agree with this writer when he talks about “getting into the zone,” for example:

“Hence all the mad little rituals we hear about, having to use a 4H pencil, a Moleskine notebook, having to be in a particular spot, in a certain room, at exactly this time of day, drinking this kind of tea, smoking this brand of cigarette. All desperate attempts to propitiate inspiration, to have ordinariness and originality somehow intersect.”

I’m reading this and going . . . wuh?  Sure, all writers have things they like–a spot, the coffee, that eraser Stephen King used to put on top of the pages he’d printed out that day–but Stephen King always writes every day without fail as does Garrison Keillor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and a whole slew of writers with production schedules to keep and the drive to understand that even if they’re not “in the zone” . . . well, you have to get there.  Sometimes, it takes all bloody day to get the words done; sometimes you reach your goal within four or five hours (or less).  Sometimes you fall short.  But you don’t wait around for inspiration or to get into the zone.  You sometimes just grind it out because that’s what pros, of any stripe, do.

And the whole thing of getting distracted?  What BS.  All that is, is whether or not you’ve got any discipline.  Either you do, or you don’t.  But it is very easy not to get distracted by email or Facebook; you set up a SCHEDULE of when you are ALLOWED to look at mail or FB or whatever; or you simply work on a dedicated writing computer without internet access (something I know a fair number of writers do).  This whole thing of not giving into temptation. . . I’m sorry, but this comes from a mindset that because it dings, beeps, and whistles, you just must answer the phone or that email or whatever.

You are not a slave to tech, and if you are, then your priorities are messed up.  No wonder you’re not getting anything done.

Which is, in the end, what this guy finally comes around to: that he is a guy doing a job, and if you don’t show up for work, you don’t get paid.  What he does is . . . well, it works for him.  Me, it would be a step backward, but that’s what is helpful about reading how other writers write.  Some you agree with; others, you don’t.  I used to write longhand, too, and thought I would NEVER be able to compose on a computer.  Now composing on a computer is all I pretty much do because anything else is a waste of time.  (Do I plan out what I’m to do that day first even if I’ve got an outline in hand?  Absolutely, because things always change–as they have for this current book–and so, sometimes, that’s in longhand; sometimes it’s in Notepad. )

But, for heaven’s sake, why redo what I did yesterday?

Now, I know writers who re-read what they did the day before to get back into the flow–I will certainly re-read a portion of the day before just to get the rhythm again, but I also make sure to make notes at the END of the writing day so I know where this needs to go next–and which is what I think this guy is getting at.  But I couldn’t imagine rewriting something on a computer that I’d written out by hand the day before.  For one thing…I’d probably change it because the prose would’ve had the chance to marinate and stew.  So I’d really be recomposing what I’d already done–sort of a draft and then another draft because, of course, when the book is done, you’re going to go back and kill words and add others or revamp entire ideas or sections.  It’s what I’m doing now, in fact.  By the time I finished this book in February, I knew what I would have to change going back.  Now going through it again, not only have I done that, but I added an entirely new element I’d not considered before but which I think punches the book up and moves things along much better.

But I still have a deadline.  I still have a schedule.  I have to bring this book to a close by a certain date, and then move on.

Would I get there wth this person’s method?  Hard to say, but I’m not really keen on writing and then typing in what I wrote like a machine and then coming up with something new.  Writing by hand is altogether different than writing via computer; for one thing, I tend to lose patience writing by hand because the ideas are coming too quickly for me to get them down.  (Although I frequently talk out loud as I write; don’t ask me why.  Works for me.)

At the end of the day, he is right about this: you gotta write and writing is a job.

Speaking of which…I think I hear my boss coming down the hall.


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