Tuesday, 7 April 2009

THE HABITUAL WRITER

- Okay to take five?

- Sure. Why not take ten? In fact, you’ve worked so hard recently, straining those creative sinews, why not have the rest of the day off…

What a great boss. Caring, considerate, never pushy. Always ensuring you never finish that novel.

Working discipline can be the hardest habit to instil when you’re your own boss. And as everyone knows (er-hum), being creative is the hardest work there is, it’s so easy to give yourself a break. Or five. The temptations are, of course, infinite: (insert any long-put-off, unimportant job around the house.) And it won’t really matter if you take the morning off, will it? The world won’t mind waiting a few more hours for your genius prose. It does matter. Those little days off you give yourself will seep into your motivation like a corrosive acid. Writing needs to become a habit. It needs to occur regardless of mood, energy levels, that thing called life what gets in the way.

A successful writer once said he only wrote when he was in the mood, and that he made sure he was in the mood at nine every morning. (A related post on ‘writer’s block’ coming soon. You can probably guess that I’m not a believer.)

A good strategy, essential I find, is to allocate a specific period of time each day to write. This maybe only an hour. Maybe three. The important thing is to commit to it. You then do nothing else but click keys or scribble furiously. This time should become sacred, free from all interruption. Much of your output will be rubbish, but it’s vital to establish this habit. You will soon overcome the terror of the blank white page, developing an almost monastic urge (is that an oxymoron?) to write each day.

Obviously, you’ll be engaged in other writing-related activities the rest of the time – research, observation, revision. But you need to be hard with yourself during the writing period. Post period rewards, usually taking the form of beer for me, can help.

5 comments:

Nicola Morgan said...

A topic close to my heart, as I have turned into the most hopelessly undisciplined writer. It beats me how I still never meet a deadline and still produce stuff that seems to work. Someone told me today that Raymond Carver said you should set aside a time in which you may write, or you may not write, but you can't do anything else. So, there's no pressure or "blank page syndrome" - you can do whatever nothingy thing you like, stare into space, twiddle your thumbs, but for that time you are not allowed to enage in anything else. Like, er, blogging, or er, emails, or er sodding twitter. I think this could work for me, and it may have to, as I am about to embark on a NaNoWriMo ...

Our World Interwoven said...

From a poetic perspective, I think both delay and play are key to a healthy habit. But persistantly playing with prose and taking your work outside your normal everyday writing are never as good as skipping a week or a month to live your life. But then, my attempt at a novel died on 25000 words, or when winter turned to spring. Now I doubt I'd finish with all those sunny days ahead.

TOM J VOWLER said...

I suppose, Nicola, there will be as many ways of writing as writers - okay, maybe not that many. I think someone like your good self (ie a damned successful and prolific writer) knows how to manage time in order to achieve the results you do. My only experience comes from the first novel I wrote, and I remember not being nearly disciplined enough, thinking 'it'll get written one day' and 'you can't rush (er-hum) genius'. I think I want 'new' writers to have a sense of craft (graft) rather than art: so you sit down every day and write rather than waiting for inspiration to blow in on the wind.

I like the 'time to write or not to' idea, which I imagine still engenders good habits. Mind, Carver used to thrash out sentences for 14 hours at a time, not something I find myself doing often.

Nicola Morgan said...

By the way, i meant to say - am a little concerned about the pic illustrating your blog piece. Just borrowed, I assume??

Yes, so agree re different things working for different people. You have to find what works and be honest about what does or doesn't. I do think the hardest thing about writing a novel which doesn't have a contract is that there's no deadline. I now find that the deadline is the only discipline i need, and everything else can be as rubbishy and messy and ill-disciplined as it likes, as long as deadline-fear is goading me on. But it FEELS wrong - I feel I really should be able to be more disciplined. So, I'm going to try your "specific period" technique. But not today ...

Tania Hershman said...

So true, for us short (and very short) story writers too. I didn't write at all yesterday, after getting some thrilling news that threw me for a loop, and already after one day, I was worried about writing again. Luckily, I wrote a flash story this morning and all is well with the world. I echo what Nicola says - doing anything writing-related is ok, staring at a blank page, writing a poem etc... And also stimulating the writing but creating inspiration - I like to compile prompts for myself by stealing phrases from other people's poems. Helps me immensely!

Not twittering, though? Help!

Tom, very impressed with your word count. Nice going.