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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Because there is nothing more interesting than me.

Scalzi is talking about The Rules over here, specifically the advice to "write four hours a day." And why he thinks it's not so useful. And I foresee this sparking an entire blogosphere full of writers talking about their process and their schedule, so let me be the first lemming off the cliff.*

(And truepenny is smart about similar topics over here. And Toby Buckell talks about the writing speed thing here. And Caitlin Kiernan talks about it here.

It takes, in other words, as long as it takes.)

See, the thing about writing is, you have to figure out what works. And then you have to do it. And doing it is the hard part.

For me, I need a limiting behavior. And I also need adequate time to feel like I don't have to write quickly to stay on track for a deadline, because the fact of the matter is that I don't write quickly. I write consistently. It's different. If I only have a couple of hours a day to write, and a deadline, I panic.

When I was working full time and trying to write to deadlines, it made me physically ill. Not a good scene. Part-time was doable, though I was also tending to spend all my non-work time writing, which wasn't good for me either, although I was rather productive. Working overtime and writing, for me, don't happen. See, my obsession is finishing things. I write to get to the end of the story and find out what happens.

Now that I am writing full-time, I have games I play with myself. For example, I get up in the morning, make tea or coffee, and write at least three pages. This is a pretty small chunk of wordage, frankly--but it's enough to advance the story somewhat, and it's enough to make me feel like I have worked. If I pry myself out of bed between 6:30 and 7:00 am, then I can be done with those pages by eleven at the latest. (Remember when I said I wasn't a fast writer?) Sometimes, on a good day (today was a good day) I'm done by 9:30. Call it, usually, a three-hour writing session, maybe four. The cat gets up around nine and wants breakfast.

After that, I get to eat something, get cleaned up, do whatever else I need to do (this pro writer thing isn't just writing. There are page proofs, interviews, research, contracts, business nonsense, copy-edits. There is slush to read. There is Stuff. Stuff takes up a couple of hours a day. Every day. Some days it can take ALL DAY.)

Usually, though, before I do the Stuff, I go to the gym or try to get a walk in, weather permitting. Exercise is important. It keeps you sane, and healthy. And I do good thinking when I am walking.

I also try to practice guitar. 

And read, research, etc. I don't actually count this as work time, though often it is related. Or I do bloggy things. Or housework. Or run errands. Or see friends.

Most nights, after dinner, I'm back at the laptop. That's generally when my online writing group congregates for evening writing session. Another three pages is the goal for me, at this point. If I'm on a roll, I go over. It might be on the same project, or a different one.

So call that another three hours. Maybe four. And then after that bed around midnight most nights, and a sleep broken by intermittent cat fits, and then up and do it again.

Figure I work about a ten hour day, then. Now that I am restricting myself to a saner writing schedule, instead of the marathons I used to pull, when I'd get up at 3:30 am, go to work, come home around ten, and write until I fell over at 11 pm. I wrote a lot of books that way, and severely strained my health. I don't recommend it.

That early writing session gives me permission to have much of the day to do stuff that isn't writing, which I never had before, and that's wonderful--because continued creative output requires continuous creative input.

So yeah, I do work hard.**

But yanno what?

I get to do it in my pajamas.***

*this comment libelous to lemmings

**So does Scalzi. So do plenty of writers who somehow manage to hold down a day job and/or raise a family, and get their words in every day--whether it's five thousand or five hundred or fifty words a day. I am not nearly as tough as some of my colleagues. (I know people who say they can't write when they're not employed: me, I have a hell of a time putting out consistent and quality work when I am trying to focus on the day job. I'm a little more than a little manic, and a little OCD. I fixate. And nothing else in the world is important to me when I am locked onto something.

In with both feet, or not at all. Which is why, once I start really writing a book, all I want to do is finish it, and I have to find ways to reassure myself that I am making progress, so I won't berate myself for not being finished yet and work myself sick. A hare with good stamina is a terrifying thing, but you know, you can kill a horse if you run it long enough.)

***None of this indicates that the way I do it is the way anybody else should do it.

The world is full of prescriptivist people who will tell you that their way is better, is somehow intrinsically superior, and who will attempt to convert you to their system. This is due to insecurity on their part, as near as I can tell (you ever notice that the people most interested in telling you how wonderful marriage is are the ones who will be divorced within a couple of years?). I am not one of them.

The important thing, as near as I can tell, is discipline. Getting the words on the page somehow. And it doesn't matter if you do it two pages a day every day except leap day, or if you hang around the house staring at the ceiling and smoking cigarettes for three months and then sit down and write the draft in two weeks, strung out on whiskey and espresso. It doesn't matter.

What matters is that the draft gets done.


See, the thing about writing is, you have to figure out what works. And then you have to do it. And doing it is the hard part.

This, by the way, encapsulates everything I envy about people who write for a living. It's not that you get to do it in pajamas. I don't mind clothes, really, and with all the newer fabrics with spandex in them I can wear clothes that are just as comfortable as jammies. It's that you get to do what works for you, when it works for you. People with office jobs, if they're lucky and have a very good job, get to do what works to get the job done. But they can rarely choose to quit for the day when they start to suck, or (the way I like to work) be productive for a bit, goof off for a bit, rinse and repeat. At least, not while anyone's watching they can't, not even if they truly are more productive that way.
continued creative output requires continuous creative input.

And you know, this applies to many different--perhaps all--fields of work that require thought rather than repeating the same thing over and over. It amazes me (and probably shouldn't) how little importance this single principle is given in the workplace.


Thanks for the insight - I know I can't do it that way - though as you point out it is how YOU regularly get the very hard work done.
I appreciate the comment about walking and getting out for some exercise etc. in order to maintain sanity and good health.
I forgot about the slush. I have a similar day when I have all the protocols to script, read last night's work and do the special procedures (think long needles put in hard to reach body parts) - all BEFORE I can start on the current day's film load.
Schedule and routine combined with discipline seem to work best for me too (dogs and cats help).
What matters is that the draft gets done.

And, in my opinion, that is the only metric worth considering.

I suck at schedules. Really, really suck. I wish that were not so, but as yet I haven't had much luck changing it. I write when I can, I do as much as I can, and one way or another, the book gets done.

Compared to some, I write way fast. Compared to others, I'm a slacker. In the end, the book gets done. It takes as much as it takes, and that's that.
*g* If what you are doing works, why try to change it?

It works!
I notice that people fixate on The Right Process in the same way that beginning writers fixate on The Right Manuscript Format. Which is to say, they matter, but they aren't as critical as they're made out to be until they stand in the way of getting the job done.

The time to focus on process is when you realize that you aren't getting the writing done, or you're writing badly. "My process is bigger and thicker than your process?" Pfui.

Speaking of which... suggest to me clever things to do when you run out of plot.
I will do a whole plot post just for you, this afternoon.

After I make curry.

Because I must have curry.

Thank you. You are nice. So is curry.

Mmm, curry. I think I shall ask for English curry for supper.
So, "There are nine and sixty ways of telling tribal lays, and every single one of them is right," still pretty much nails it.
Yes. *g*
Pat Wrede used to say that all the time, way back on the FidoNet WRITING echo, whenever discussions of writing methods came up. I have never forgotten it. *is both nostalgic and grateful*
See, the thing about writing is, you have to figure out what works. And then you have to do it. And doing it is the hard part.

Others say similar things above, but: I think this is true of much in life. Maybe everything.
Yes. The secret to life appears to be picking a direction and then walking in it until you find something neat, or come to impassable terrain and have to pick a different direction.

Or a rock falls on your head.
See, the thing about writing is, you have to figure out what works. And then you have to do it. And doing it is the hard part.

Hear, hear. That's what it all boils down to in my (very limited) experience. You write or you don't write. (There is no "try", thank you Yoda).

That's generally when my online writing group congregates for evening writing session.

I'm curious nosey. Please can you tell a bit more about this? Specifically, how do you do it?
We hang out in an AIM chatroom and type at each other.
Ah ok. Thanks!
Your cat waits till nine o'clock, before she wants her breakfast?

The only prescriptivist in this house is Barry, and he's only prescriptive about meals: which are due now, thank you very much. You are upright; you can feed me. Etc...
Oh yes.

She does not rise as early as the monkey. She's up all night pulling my hair, after all.

It's exhausting. She needs a restorative nap of a morning.