November 19, 2020 § 25 Comments
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book.” (Stephen King)
“I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.” (Peter De Vries)
“Just write every day of your life.” (Ray Bradbury)
Write every day. Build a habit. That’s the only way you’re ever going to finish a book. It doesn’t matter how many words as long as you’re regular. I have many times told the story of Andre Dubus III writing The House of Sand and Fog, 17 minutes at a time, sitting in his car in the cemetery, and I tell it again in my forthcoming book about how to finish a book.
I don’t write every day.
I don’t even write every week.
Very often, I’m neck-deep in someone else’s manuscript, or teaching a workshop (last week, in prison!), or leading a retreat. I love teaching and editing, and I value doing those things. You might have a job you enjoy, or students’ work to read, or be the primary keeper of your home life. And while we can half-ass the things we don’t value to make more time for writing, it’s harder to pull time and focus away from things we care about doing well.
But even when I have vast swathes of open time, I don’t usually write every day. My brain needs fallow time. I’m working on three books right now, and I’m not writing every day on any of them.
I used to feel lazy and fake, because of course a real writer would use that time better. They’d spring from their bed, rush to the laptop, and bang out their daily word count, just like a real job! And since I didn’t act like a “real job” I must not be a “real writer.”
My creative life improved dramatically when I finally realized I run on what I call the “theatrical model.”
- Think about the project for maybe six months or a year, gradually accumulating notes and ideas.
- Sign up for a hard, non-negotiable deadline imposed by an outside source (the publishing equivalent of Opening Night).
- Rush through the entire creative process in six weeks, the last two weeks being 12-hour days.
- Tweak and revise after the deadline until it’s perfect. If it’s not revise-able, move on, trusting that I won’t make the same mistakes in the next project.
I’m fortunate enough that I can sometimes go stay in a hotel for a few days. In a self-made retreat, I’ll look at the manuscript I haven’t touched in weeks and pour out 5-10K words a day until it’s done, often at the very last minute.
What makes this way of working possible?
I’m not starting from nothing. When I was a theatre director, I already knew the style of the play, or had thought through what the staging would look like, or planned the acting beats, before I walked into the rehearsal room. I’d personally cast the actors, so I had a sense of what they were capable of, and approved the set, costume and lighting design. I don’t touch my manuscripts every day, but I stay in touch with the practice of writing sentences on Twitter. Short essays on Instagram. On an eleventh-draft novel, ten pages once a month for my writing group. And guess what? I bang out those ten pages the day they’re due. Every time.
I write 95% of my Brevity blogs in the 60 minutes before they’re published. But I know the rhythm of a post and what makes a clicky headline. I keep a long list of blog post ideas. Every day on social media and in my email, I see what writers care about, what challenges they’re facing, and I think about what advice will help, making notes for when it’s time to write.
As you fit your writing process into your life, enjoy the things you value that take time. Notice how you work best, and work that way on purpose. Maybe you are a daily writer who loves the rhythm. Maybe you’re better at the last minute. You get to write on the schedule you want. Keeping in touch with your work isn’t always sitting down at the keyboard for your daily word count. Sometimes it’s thinking through ideas in the shower, building up your story in your head, making notes in your phone or your notebook. Sometimes writing looks like typing, and sometimes it looks like keeping in touch with your world.
There are plenty of “real jobs” that operate on the “have a baseline of skill and resources and then do it all at the last minute under pressure.” Surgeon. Firefighter. Pilot. And in my case (and maybe yours), Writer.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be speaking about Content Planning for Writers and how to come up with ideas at the drop of a hat, Tuesday November 24th at 1PM Eastern on The Writers Bridge. Sign up for the Zoom link (or post-show recording) here!
March 29, 2016 § 41 Comments
By Diane Lowman,
Can I call myself a writer? I have a dozen published pieces. I am constipated with essays that back up in my head and want to come out onto the page. My stream of consciousness – when it takes a break from thinking about my kids, or what to eat, or how I really want to lose five pounds – churns narrative constantly. In my head I’m a writer; I’m just reluctant to say it out loud. Perhaps it’s the distinction between the verb and the noun. I write. I am a writer. The former is unequivocally true. The latter conjures Hemingway or Shakespeare, and I lack the arrogance to put myself in that stratosphere.
I recall that when I was just a homemaker and mother – by which I mean CEO, COO, and CFO of an empire and its inhabitants – people would glaze over or arch a sympathetic eyebrow when I told them what I did. Or, in their minds, what I didn’t do. My BA in Economics, MBA, and PhD in Holistic Nutrition (oh, and black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Reiki Mastership, and Yoga Teacher Certification) afforded me no street cred. I had no title.
Now that my boys are young men, I am no longer primarily a caregiver, although I will give them care eternally. When people ask what I do, and I answer, “I teach yoga,” or “I tutor Spanish,” they seem relieved and pleased to have something more concrete and tangible to hang their approval on. “Oh! That’s great!”
I feel justified in verbalizing those vocations, perhaps because I go somewhere and get paid to do them. And although I’m always flattered and genuinely surprised when an editor chooses to publish my work, and even more amazed when people actually read it, I still feel fraudulent saying: “I’m a writer.” Everyone who takes pen, crayon, or lipstick to paper is a writer. What form of validation would grant me permission to own the moniker without feeling like a faker? A handsome paycheck? A piece in the New Yorker?
According to the American Psychological Association, in the 1970’s, Imes and Clance described those suffering from “impostor phenomenon” as “high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.” I won’t go down the rabbit hole of denial about whether or not I’m a “high achiever,” but I unequivocally identify with the “unable” part of the phrase.
I will practice saying, “I am a writer” out loud. Maybe in front of a mirror, like Al Franken’s SNL character Stewart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Maybe the next time we meet, I will shake your hand, and say, “Hi. My name is Diane, and I am a writer.”
Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She looks forward to what’s next.