No stalling today–let’s talk about the hard part of writing, the thing that separates ideals from reality and keeps lying in the way of every new plan we make. That is, the sheer effort it takes to keep doing all the work to get a thing written. Focus, perseverance, facing down everything from life’s distractions to our own doubts that that crazy idea is worth finishing… come on, is there any of us that doesn’t see ourselves here?
(The Unified Writing Field Theory — searchings and findings on what makes stories work)
The most interesting thing I’ve ever heard about writing came from an article (and ohh, I wish I remember whose!), where a longtime author confessed that the best writing insight he’d learned in all his years was that:
“All writers hate to write.”
The more he actually talked to his fellow pros, the more they all admitted they hated the process of writing a thing out, and what they loved was looking back at a thing and know they “had it written.” –Go on, take five seconds for a Google search to see how many bloggers are confessing and debating that same problem.
Except, I think that author was overstating his point, or showing the glass half-empty to steel his readers for the challenge. We all know getting a thing written is hard and that our biggest enemy there can be ourselves. But from what I’ve lived and what other writers tell me, I’d put it as:
“Writers hate to start writing, and love it each time they get rolling.”
It might seem like our own daily Hero’s Journeys of challenge and reward, but I call it the Scary Bicycle: like with the proverbial bike, the skills we’ve gained in the past come back quickly enough each time we sit down, although writing seems more difficult until we actually settle in, maybe every single time. The results may be better some days than others, but honed skills are still honed skills, and the enthusiasm itself is generally right there waiting for us.
That may be what defines a writer more than anything else: just the love of what we do, even if it may take twenty or sixty minutes of awkwardness each time to get to that place. We recognize each other when we hear about that same crazy fascination with the process itself. So that just leaves: what can we do to get into The Zone?
Stephen King, of course, says you have to write every single day… and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Both our skills and the discipline itself gain hugely when we keep them that fresh, and let’s face it, “every day” is simply the proverb for what rhythm makes something a part of life.
(Plus: just writing a page a day gives you a 365-page novel every single year. Doesn’t look so bad, does it?)
–Yeah, like I have time to breathe on a weekday, I hear a lot of us saying. True, life is life… more or less. But still:
- Priorities. If writing matters to you–never mind whether you’re dying to have a New York Times Bestseller, just whether some real in-the-zone creating time compares well to ordinary TV or making a fancier dinner–it’s worth pushing at least some things down to make room. It’s just “life,” but you’re trying to keep it your life, right?
- Rhythm. Some of us do great things with hours of intense writing on a weekend (after all, you only have to Start Up once) or a whole week of vacation; others follow King and make it a part of each day. There’s no simple answer to which to use, except: why not try some of both, and see how each gets you closer to who you want to be?
- Finesse. No, our bosses just don’t care that we haven’t written our daily pages yet. But we don’t have to manage writing, or even life, in big blocks. Try setting aside one question about the next scene, or printing out a few notes or a page to edit, and pulling that out at the five-minute lull between things.
Most of all, the writing itself doesn’t have to slog along each word in the same sequence. Maybe the most interesting twist on the Scary Bicycle model I’ve heard was the friend who said it was harder to start writing when he created new pages, but easier to start and harder to continue when he was revising. So maybe the smoothest way to start a session is to review the things you’ve already written, to get you back in the groove.
(Two alternate approaches to that: As many people advise, try ending a session in mid-scene, maybe mid-sentence, so that’s where you can hit the page running next time. Or, one researcher says that the mind is best at creative and social functions in the morning, and just tired enough in the afternoon to be better at critical thought (or just resting)–after all, how many radio stations save their talk for the morning and settle into all music after lunch?)
That only scratches the surface, naturally. The more we each learn about our own writing processes, the more we can try things like writing an outside-the-tale debate between characters to get involved in a certain scene, or saving certain easy or hard scenes to write later. (Just never forget that gut check of “Wait, what does it mean that this scene’s boring me so much?”)
In the end it comes back to the numbers, pushing ourselves to get it all written. And maybe like other pushes, the key may be seeing past how hard it is to get started each time, and how we seem to pick up speed from there. “Hard work? Well, the first thirty minutes don’t count.”
Or to bring up what may be the best line I’ve heard on life (or at least on the limits of advice), take Ms. Buffy Summers’
“It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day.”
Literally every day? maybe. Or just, whenever you want to get to the fun parts.