Monday, June 10, 2013

Work and Play

We've all talked a lot about work and perseverance and stubbornness, but exactly what do we mean by those nouns, and how, precisely--in practical, actual, real life terms--do we go about turning them into verbs so one might truly approach our writing as, well, work?  Something you do when you're tired, or bored, or empty, or hung over.  Something you do because it's time to do it.  As in, every day.

Wow, that really sounds like work.  Like a job.

But this writing is an art, isn't it? Something at which we love to play and be creative, right?

So often, as fledgling writers, we grasp at the shiny prize of completing our first story or sometimes even just a scene or a single brilliant paragraph, then we wait for the next lure to come flying into the water so we can snap it up.  Muses, grace, inspiration, they all have their bauble of twisting silver and furry knots, and we just know another will come our way from that cobalt space above our heads . . . someday . . . someday.  And so we wait, assuming our writing is something that will find us.  Eventually.

Sounds like one of the archetypal questions in those debates we relish at writers conferences, MFA programs, or over a beer or a single malt with our struggling fellows:  Should a writer actually write every day, treating it like a damned job?

As a latecomer to writing fiction, my initial approach was to hover in the shallows, half dozing, waiting for that splash that would spring me into action, only occasionally wondering why I wasn't making much progress besides yammering on to everyone I met that I was writing a novel.  Then I discovered the Antioch Writers Workshop, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and met real live, published authors who chatted about their work habits and their workspace and laughed and moaned about sitting down to write with the needle on the big fat E.  That approach had never occurred to me, and I heard Maynard G. Krebs's plaintive whine echoing through the water.

But Robert Inman, author of Captain Saturday and Old Dogs and Children, said it best.  When asked that age old question about writing every day, he said he'd learned the hard way, working on his first novel.  He'd written steadily most days but then, for whatever reason, hadn't written for a week or so.  When he came back to his project, he found that his characters had been going about their business in his story . . . but they wouldn't tell him what they'd been up to!

Those fickle bastards!

So, I gave it a try and, voila, after many fits and starts, it actually made a difference, allowed me to get into some rhythm, to feel like I was making genuine progress.  So now, I do my best (copout intended) to write daily, in the early mornings, in my home office, in the quiet, and I even appreciate the fact that what flows from my fingers is often nothing more than silt.  But I'm writing.

What's your take and how do you approach the job of writing?


  1. I don't write daily, but I write weekly, about two or three days. I am trying something new, however, to take advantage of downtime I sometimes have between assay runs. I have dedicated a single chapter from my WWII story to be written solely during those periods. It's a slow process, to be sure, measured by minutes and not hours, but I have made some progress.

  2. What a great question! It's funny how writing sounds like a hobby, but it's not really. It is like a job, and to really excel in writing, you do need to practice it like any difficult and complex skill. You can't really write once a week and expect to get better.
    The truth is, sometimes I go through streaks like this in which I write once a week.
    Even this is sort of complicated, though, because right now, I'm not really writing because I'm revising a project. This takes a different set of skills--arguably, more elaborate and more difficult.
    Argh! I'm going off on a tangent! Writing is like a job, albeit a rewarding and difficult and wonderful job that rarely pays any money.