Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Writing - stop with the muse

Sure.  There will be inspiration.  And it will seem to come from nowhere.  But let’s be realistic – that was just your subconscious mind finally sifting through all the dusty old bits of information stored in your brain to find the connective tissue between two or more disparate items to form something new, or at least new to you. 

This is what people mean by “making your own luck.”  If you have prepared (with regard to writing – been observant, read…a lot, and worked at your craft), have put yourself out there (submitted work, whether to a professional publication or a local writers’ group), and are looking for further opportunities to share your work, then you will have a far better chance of getting lucky (i.e. having your work published), than if you do little to none of the preceding.  Just because you want to be published, does not mean you will be published.  You need to do the work. 

Work.  Yes.  Writing is a job – I saw a quote attributed to Lawrence Kasdan, I believe, where he states that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life; this is true.  There are myriad people who have an idea, want to write, wish they had the time to do it.  But they don’t.  Instead, they post on submission threads asking for the editor (probably the only “employee” at this small periodical) to contact them when submissions open again – rather than doing the due diligence to seek out avenues for publication – or lamenting the fact that they have no sample pieces to share with an editor seeking contributors to their site, which tells me they probably aren’t making the time (note: not “taking” the time) to actually do any writing, though they would really love to have their name in the table of contents of that anthology or on the home page of that website. 

They’re probably waiting for their muse.

Some of the best advice I’ve found for those who really want to be a published author:
1. Write
2. Read
3. Write & read every day. 
4. Set a daily writing goal.
5. Finish what you write
6. Then revise, because that’s where the real writing happens.

That’s it.  You don’t need to send it off for publication.  Harlan Ellison has said, on a number of occasions (and I paraphrase):  if you write, then you’re a writer, you don’t need me to acknowledge that you’re a writer, just do the work and let it be.  And that’s what I do, to the best of my ability, without sacrificing time with my family.  This means I don’t get to watch as much TV as I might like.  Nor do I see as many films as I want to.  But I do sit and write every day, or I at least aim to.

Last night was one of those nights when I was not feeling it at all.  My daily goal is 1000 words, which translates to roughly an hour of time – sometimes more, rarely less – and there are many days when I think:  Wouldn’t it just be easier not to bother?  I could relax, read a comic, watch an episode of Cheers, or play some wii sports.  Many days.  And last night was one of those.

I’m in the middle of a new short prose story, one that’s been percolating for a long time.  But I haven’t done some of the research necessary, which can easily be fixed in the revision stage, and I only have a rough outline of where I’m going.  And my gut knows this – something I am finally starting to understand.  I’m a planner, so not knowing where I’m going is a scary thing, and it can affect how I approach my nightly writing (my gut feelings are often, also, indications that something just isn’t working in a particular story).  I was also feeling a bit fatigued, which didn’t help.  And I seriously considered not sitting down to write last night. 

But, as often happens in these instances, I sparked up the laptop and began writing the next scene, of which I only knew how it opened.  It was a slog, but I managed to get through the scene, and I was surprised by a turn it took toward the end, which is always nice.  I didn’t hit my goal, but I got 750 words down and had landed at a good end point.  So I saved it and put it away. 

And then I let the question of what happens next roll around in my brain while I finished Harlan Ellison’s Mefisto in Onyx.  And I figured it out – discarding ideas at 10:00pm so I could rearrange the newer ones at 4:30 this morning – and I’m feeling much better about where the story is going (should have this first draft completed by the weekend). 

And the lesson here is this:  If I had not gotten past my “woe is me” attitude to sit down and write that next bit, I would still be working over that prior part.  I never would have had an opportunity to think about what came after, at least not until I finally wrote that next part.  And, by that time, maybe the confluence of ideas and exterior realities would have changed in such a way that the final part, as now conceived, would have been impossible to discover.  Now, maybe I could find a better solution, but there is also the very healthy chance that I would find a much poorer one, or none at all. 

Then I could be like those people crying about wanting to write on internet threads, but never getting anything done.


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