Friday, September 13, 2013

500 words

Sharing my work with other people has become one of my biggest struggles with writing. That’s so true as the last few posts have discussed. It’s a little like stage fright, but it's more like I’m standing naked and bearing everything in my soul and all of my talent on stage, waiting for someone to give me a little approval that might come in an sardonic Jack Nickolson voice that says, “Eh, not bad,” along with all the other detailed comments about problematic point of view and characterization and description and all the rest. 

But writing offers up so many other problems. Just one of these looms like a horrific Frankenstein in my writing: over-revising. I never quit revising, and somehow, I get frustrated and discouraged by the moment when I realize that my work has turned into something that is no longer the creation I once wanted it to be. It's a monster. And I made it. 

Then I ditch the project and start something new. 

My latest problem with writing is time. In the past, I have always managed to carve out an hour or at least 15 minutes a day to write, but in the last weeks, even finding time to get four or five hours of sleep is a stretch—let alone finding time to write for an hour. What do I do? 

One of my favorite authors, Graham Greene wrote that he forced himself to produce 500 words a day. When he was working on a deadline, he wrote up to something like 10,000 words a day, but he forced himself to write at least 500 words a day. He also took 20-mile walks and played Russian roulette by himself. What a strange and fascinating man. 

But 500 words. That’s nothing. I can do that in about 10 minutes if I get moving, and 15 if I really need a cup of coffee. Add up 500 words a day, and you can write a 60,000-word novel in about 4 months. If you really keep at this, you could write three novels a year. 60 novels in 20 years. A couple hundred books in a lifetime. 

It doesn’t really work like this, I know. I spend twice as much time revising as I do strictly writing, and I write short stories and essays (and a blog now and again), not just novels. 

Back to the time problem. I carve out a half an hour a day to run. I make time to feed my cats and have a cup of coffee in the morning. Why can’t I find a few minutes to sit at my laptop? In the last few weeks since my routine has changed, why can’t I shift my schedule a little more to allow for 500 words? 

Here’s an even tougher question: if writing is such a demanding hobby or whatever with so little promise for any reward or praise, why do any of us do it? As cynical as this sounds, why do we write?


  1. 1 cup of coffee = 500 words in 15 minutes. So, 10 cups of coffee = 5,000 words in 150 minutes. I need to drink more coffee!

    Seriously, why do we write? Heather, I don't really know. Yes, we love to create, fantasize, and challenge the world with our 'What if' scenarios -even if the world never sees it. We all have that story to tell and want to be the first to tell it in our own artistic style. Oh, wait. Is that it? We write to be unique? Or to sell a book? Both?

  2. Don't worry, Heater. It will snow soon.

  3. You shouldn't ever force production of a hobby or project. You will not be happy with the results and may very well wind up reworking it, essentially wasting time.

    We do things because they are fun, and making them an obligation of sorts makes them not so much fun.

  4. I suspect, Bill, the issue is Heather's use of the word "hobby" to describe a person's approach to their writing. From the standpoint that a hobby usually implies, as you said, having fun and doing such things in our spare time and recognizing that we are amateurs at whatever our fun hobby is--and that we are content with that and happy to remain amateurs--then, you're right, our taking such a hobby seriously and approaching it with workmanlike attention, commitment, and hard work, is likely to tire us so we move on to the next fun hobby whose shiny surface catches our eye. I suspect, though, that Tom Clancy, Steven King and J. K. Rowling, etc, while they were laboring at their first works prior to being discovered, published, and striking it deservedly rich, didn't view their writing as simply a fun hobby. Which route does one wish to follow?

  5. Ive been working on a FPS game project for about 3 years now. Its off and on. I used to set deadlines for production, had tough goals, and realized that I had turned something I very much enjoyed doing for fun into another job. I started taking a less focused attitude; but that left my weapons guy and animator feeling as if we had no direction.

    In the end I chose to do what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it, and went back to enjoying the process - however slow it may be. I pretty much lost both guys - and I need them since I dont plan to learn two more things - but I enjoy it again and produce so much better work.

    Its all about what you want it to be. Do you want it to be a hobby, or something more serious? If you enjoy writing and do it for fun, then it could be considered a hobby. If you're forcing yourself to do it, what has it become? Is there a goal other than to produce? Has it reached a point of quantity over quality?

    I garbage binned 9 months of level design and some art because I was focusing on production and not quality of production. Some of the ideas and aesthetics could be re-used, however, what wound up happening was I had to start over with a clearer picture of where I was going - but without 'quotas'. In my case, I'd love for it to be something more serious - but it has a far batter chance of 'going somewhere' if I take a more relaxed approach. There is no sense of urgency, no rush to meet goals - just me doing something I enjoy. Hopefully, others will enjoy the end result - and if not, at least I enjoyed myself and didnt grind away for no reason.

  6. Hobby Heather? Is writing this blog a "hobby" for us Heather? Not for me. I love to fish. Fly-fishing in particular. That is a sport and a hobby. Reading is a hobby. Writing is a passion, something that fulfills me, that gives me a chance at something more. Writing gives me an opportunity to perform for an audience that I would not have otherwise. It is the most difficult work I have ever done. It is the most difficult criticism I have ever taken. There is no way I would ever back away from my project because it is my dream to see it in print. Anything that ingrained in someone can't simply be a "HOBBY". Don't ever slam something we all do so passionately with a word like that.

  7. I still think the crux of the matter is that when we think of something as merely a hobby, the chances of completing a project are minimal. That's just human nature. As several comments have noted, it's fine to approach something you enjoy and to do it when you feel like it, meaning, for your own pleasure and self gratification, double entendre intended. I love bicycling and spend a fair amount of time training...or, actually, pretending to train, since I'm fabulously creative in finding excuses not to ride on days when, gosh, the humidity is really high, er, no, the wind is over ten mph and wow it's from the north so that big hill will be even tougher....and so it goes. And I bet we all know exactly how that works and recognize it as an aspect of what we would consider a hobby. If I wanted to take my cycling to another level, I'd need to set specific goals, establish a detailed plan to get there, and then stick to that plan, riding even when I didn't feel like it. Shit! That sounds like work! Fuck that! I think I'll just take it easy and enjoy myself and ride when I feel like it. Yeah, that's the ticket. I just need to admit that it's a hobby, not a passion.

    Of course, that's perfectly fine, for me and my bike, and for Kevins and his video game. But I need to admit that the probability of me improving my cycling--or of anyone completing any project, frankly--is virtually nil when we simply view it as a hobby.

    So, if you're serious about your writing, you have to recognize that it will take hard work--extraordinarily hard work--commitment, and yes, probably some tears, if you ever expect to complete and fine tune a novel or even a story. Just ask Tom and Steven and J. K.

    As I said before, your choice, but don't expect to complete and perfect a project you treat merely as a hobby.

  8. I didn't intend to create so much discussion, but awesome.

    I'm not sure what to call writing--a hobby or what. And yes, it is work sometimes, but I think that's part of the gratifying part of the discipline.

    I have completed six novels and who knows how many short stories and essays. Was it always fun? No, but it's so gratifying and wonderful (if it's hard work, then you're probably learning something?). The discipline that it takes to sit down and finish a project is almost beyond words.

    Is that why I write? That is only a piece of it. There is so much more.


  9. In my craft or sullen art
    Exercised in the still night
    When only the moon rages
    And the lovers lie abed
    With all their griefs in their arms,
    I labor by singing light
    Not for ambition or bread
    Or the strut and trade of charms
    On the ivory stages
    But for the common wages
    Of their most secret heart.
    Not for the proud man apart
    From the raging moon I write
    On these spindrift pages
    Nor for the towering dead
    With their nightingales and psalms
    But for the lovers, their arms
    Round the griefs of the ages,
    Who pay no praise or wages
    Nor heed my craft or art.

    Dylan Thomas

  10. Well, I dreamed of having someone sit down and read what I had written and sighing with satisfaction, just like I do after a good read. But since that's not happening very soon, why do I keep at it?

    Writing is where I work out my more dangerous emotions, where I say the things I can't say in real life.

    And writing time is my way of telling the world, "This is the piece of me that you can't have. This is reserved for doing what I love (or hate, or procrastinate. But whatever, you can't have it!)."


  11. Oh, and besides that, I'm learning loads of better techniques for structure and plotting. I've got to try them out. So I can't quit.

  12. No. You can't quit. We can't quit. We just keep at it. Even when it's tough.