Thu
Nov 20 2008 5:01pm

Tail Bone to Chair: Part Two

Hi. I’m back. And I’m picking up right where I was, in the middle of Decision Two: Avoid Boxes At All Cost.

Time of day is the other big quirk by which writers trap themselves. I’ve known writers who need to write first thing or they won’t “get into it.” I’ve known writers who can only write at night when the world is quiet. I’ve known writers who can only write when their routine chores are completed and they feel they now “have time.”

Often these writers got into these habits for all the best reasons in the world, but eventually what started as a good thing became a trap. I decided that no time would be my time. The reverse of this is that, for me, all time can be writing time.

Once I threw privacy, equipment, and time of day out the window, it was a much simpler matter to avoid all those other interesting writerly quirks.

I don’t need music to write, but sometimes I put music on. I don’t need special clothes or even my own equipment. These days I write mostly on my computer, but a couple of weeks ago I wrote longhand in a notebook while on a plane.

Sure. There are things I prefer—black coffee, dark chocolate, a cat purring softly nearby, my own office, and assortment of chairs—but the key is I don’t need them.

Makes all the difference in the world.

Writing—not being a writer with interesting habits—gets priority.

3) Be Flexible About Goals. This is a two-parter, really. The other half is “But Have Goals.”

When I started seriously addressing myself to writing, I had the good fortune to also be involved in an on-going correspondence (via snail mail) with Roger Zelazny.

In one letter, Roger mentioned almost as an aside that three or four times a day he’d sit down and write three or four sentences. Sometimes the piece he was working on would catch fire and he’d find himself writing a lot more. Sometimes he’d just get those few sentences.

He commented that he had never failed to be amazed how even just a few sentences a day could somehow turn into a finished piece. Roger also mentioned that no matter how well the day before had gone, he never gave himself a “break” because of that. The next day, he started fresh.

Well, I’ll admit I was almost indignant when I first read this. When was I (who was teaching five courses, sometimes five preps) going to find three or four times a day to write anything?

Then some little demon whispered in my ear: “Three or four multipled by three or four is twelve.”

Twelve. Twelve sentences, once a day. Surely I could manage that much. Twelve substantial sentences, of course, not just a “yes/no” conversation.

Suddenly, indignation vanished. I felt eager and excited. I felt even more eager and excited when I realized that this was working. I wrote short stories. Eventually, I wrote my first novel, then another. And more short stories.

I never let any other form of writing take over my “quota.” My non-fiction writing, of which I did a considerable amount, was done on the side. So was writing related to my teaching (committee reports and the like).

And, as Roger had said, sometimes those twelve sentences were enough to make my imagination take hold. I’d write a lot more, sometimes until my hand cramped and I was writing in a weird shorthand.

But I wrote.

When I moved to writing full-time, I adapted this goal. Early in a project, my goal is still just getting something on paper. Later, I will expand that and try for five pages a day. Toward the end of a novel, when I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen, I’m back to those days when my hands are cramping and my back is stiff, even when I shift chairs at my computer.

I suppose that this setting of production goals is a violation of my “no boxes” rule but, on the other hand, if I kept to that, then it would be a box of its own, wouldn’t it?

And even this production goal gets violated from time to time. Sometimes I write less than I’d like, but do research. Other times editor’s notes or a copy-edited manuscript or page proofs for a forthcoming novel mean that I need to put my attentions elsewhere for a day or two, but I always come back to writing. Even when there are distractions, I try for those twelve sentences a day.

Writing Gets Priority.

7 comments
Rabarts
1. Rabarts
Thanks.

You've help me get a new perspective on what I should be doing and how I should be doing it.

It's appreciated.
Jane Lindskold
2. janelindskold
Glad to have been of service, but there are other ways to make writing fit into a lived life.

I hope someday you'll drop me a line and let me know how you adapted some part of this process to your life.
D M
3. pavid
Thanks for your insights, Jane. I am curious about the implication that you don't know the ending of your stories "Toward the end of a novel, when I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen, I’m back to..." I have encountered this assertion in various forms from other authors and I have always wondered if the assertions were true. This also leads me to wonder: do you really not know the way a story is going to go when you start out?
Yet another insight would be appreciated. Thanks in advance
Jane Noel
4. noelx99
That comment by pavid sounds like a post waiting to happen.

I cant' imagine starting out writing a novel and not knowing how it's going to end!
Jane Lindskold
5. janelindskold
I really don't know how a book is going to end.

How about I make that a post next week?

Might be late next week, because my mom is visiting for Thanksgiving and I'm going to be off-line.
Steve Smoot
7. smoot666
You may be interested in this photoessay, looking at author's writing rooms, sort of a counterpoint interest.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7754115.stm

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