Thursday, September 10, 2020

ON WRITING: The Habit's the Thing

Day 3 of working to get back into the habit of writing. Here we go:

I've written about this before, but you can't allow yourself, if you want to write, to fall into the trap of waiting for the muse. That's a mug's game, a romantic notion that sounds lofty and artistic but will only hamper you, if you truly want to be a writer. [And note, being a writer is many things, but at its core, as Harlan Ellison stated and I will paraphrase: if you write, then you're a writer, full stop. Other good advice, from Neil Gaiman:  finish what you begin.]

But it's an easy trap to fall into. I did, when I first had the idea of writing. Of course, I have a tendency to romanticize things, which is probably why my reading and entertainment choices have leaned toward fantasy and the fantastical -- Star Wars being the prime example of this, with comic books a close second. So, when I first considered writing as something I could do, I though it was necessary to just wait for the ideas to come, to allow the muse to fill me up with creativity and direct me on the proper path. I had this one story idea that I believe was a good one. I would work on that, whenever I felt like it, with days and weeks and months passing in between writing spurts, those gaps expanding once I got into the revising phase. And here, as well, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought you needed to revise the fuck [sorry, Mom] out of a story before submitting it. I was into my 13th or 14th revision, at which point I am certain I was just changing words back to ones I'd had in previous drafts, when I finally stopped, put it aside, and tried to figure out what I was doing, and, more importantly, what I was doing wrong. 

Writing is work. Harlan Ellison, my favorite author, famously would write stories in bookstore windows, from ideas offered by friends or attendees, without any foreknowledge of the subject. He wanted to prove that writing was just like plumbing or teaching or any other job. You worked at it, you became better, it was something you were able to do with some facility, But, like any job, you had to work at it, otherwise, what was the point? 

If you want to be a writer, you need to write. That's advice #1 from any author. You have to write. Every day. It's not easy, because there are plenty of distractions calling out for our attention. You have to sit down, in the chair, spark up the computer, and begin smacking those keys. You have to do it regularly, every single day (though I like to take weekends off to be with my family), and, most importantly, you need to have a goal in mind toward which you're working. This goal will keep you honest, and it will allow you to forge ahead and finish those stories you start. Your goal can be a timed one, or a quantity one, whatever works for you -- write for an hour, write until you've gotten 500 words down, write until you have a full scene completed. Anything that gives you something to shoot for and keeps you moving forward. Consider:  if you write 1,000 words a day, after three months you will have written 90,000 words, roughly, which equates to a standard sized novel. Of course, there would still be revising to finish, but once you have a rough draft to work from, the writing is a bit easier. 

The most important thing about making your writing a habit -- and this is probably obvious, but bear with me -- is to make it a regular thing, within your personal schedule. Set a time, the same time, every day, for when you're going to write. Set up a writing space, dedicated to just that, and it can be at the dining room table, in a home office, on your porch, wherever, but utilize the same space very day. Your mind, and your body, will come to recognize this as the writing space, and when you sit down to the keyboard you will know, subconsciously, that it is your writing time. Patterns can be important, especially when beginning a habit. Choose some music, something that will relax you and focus you, that won't be distracting. I prefer to use soundtracks or classical music or jazz, something without lyrics. Currently I'm listening to the John Wick soundtracks. The music energizes me, and it drowns out distractions (I used to do this in high school, when I did my homework); it keeps me focused on the task at hand and allows me to work toward my goal, which has changed over time. Used to be I would try to write for 2 hours a day, then I worked to a 1000 words a day goal, now I've taken on something Joe Hill does, which is to work on a single scene and finish that scene, during my writing time. It's not always doable, but it does give me something to aspire to. 

In the end, the only person who can make you write is you, and whatever means you utilize to get to that place, I applaud you. Just remember, you need to write on a daily (regular) basis, and you need to finish what you begin. Other than that, everything else is fair game. 


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