Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August 5 2014. How much should you write in a day? And when should you write? Should you write at all? It is a gruesomely difficult line of work.

NOTE: The following is not my opinion—but it is a provocative piece—well written—and makes a valid point.


Just because you can write doesn’t mean you should. Just because you do write doesn’t mean you’re good. You could call yourself an Olympic diver, but that doesn’t mean you are.

Congratulations on penning that poem, posting that blog post, self-publishing that novel, finishing that manuscript, churning out that personal essay that is sitting on your desk, hard-drive, the internet.

But here’s the question you should be asking yourself: Can I write? Not literally. Not physically. Not technically. Anyone can do that. Can you make the words sing? Does your prose have that certain something? Are you gifted at showing not telling, or telling not showing, or creating an entire world that didn’t exist before that is born again when someone else reads your work?

Probably not. Most people cannot write well. This is a fact. This is something that is true. This is a hard thing to accept. Most people cannot write well, and that includes you, and what we can conclude from this is that the person we are talking about here who cannot write well is, in all likelihood, you.

TIP #2: It’s too hard.

Think digging ditches is hard? At least you know when you are done. Think erecting a skyscraper is hard? At least what you have when you are finished is an unequivocally completed project. Think flipping burgers at the fast food restaurant in the strip mall of the nowhere town in which you live sucks? At least you get a paycheck.

Writing is thankless work. It is like housework. It is like laundry. It is like a soap opera. It is never finished. There is always more to do. People may tell you that you are good, but you won’t believe them, or you will believe them too much, or you will not know who to believe, least of all yourself and this thing you created that is nothing more than a mess of letters trying to make sense of things that don’t: life, death, what happens in between.

No one can help you.

The above is from an article in Forbes magazine by the redoubtable Susannah Breslin—who clearly likes to write regardless—and is very good at it. That is her in the photo below. Interesting lady.

I don’t have one answer this question. There are so many variables—from subject matter to your typing skill.

What I do think is that it is important (essential) to write every day—and I include the weekend. You need to condition your brain to think: This is what I do.

This has the effect of making writing almost a reflex—something that you are very comfortable doing.

You don’t need to psych yourself up. You just sit—and the next thing you know the words are appearing on the screen—and good words at that.

So they should be if you are a professional. Pros are consistently good. That’s the whole point.

It is not that it is an automatic process—writing will always be hard and demand effort. It is more that you have trained yourself to rise to the occasion instantly. When your fingers touch the keyboard, everything kicks in. You go from zero to maximum in a fraction of a second. There is no need for a warm-up period. Your previous mood is irrelevant. You are in the zone immediately.

That level of practiced expertise is immensely useful—and it doesn’t come easy. But if you work at it every day for long enough, it will come. How long is “long enough?” Think years or decades.

I don’t think writing a few paragraphs every day will be sufficient. Mind you, I don’t know for sure because I have never limited myself to that extent. But my general thought is that you need to write at sufficient length to tax yourself. Here, I would suggest 500 words a day up—as being the acceptable minimum. That is a sufficient length to allow you to write a full piece—to tease out an issue, to stretch your brain., to make it hard. Writing practice needs to be hard.

It’s a good idea to develop your typing skills. They won’t necessarily help you to write faster because thinking about what to write is typically the controlling factor—but typing speed will help greatly where the administrative work that goes with writing is concerned.In my case, the bulk of that has had to do with fan-mail, which, at times, has been near impossible to keep up with. Still, it is a particular pleasure to receive—and, I have long felt, deserves a personal response.

I haven’t followed my own advice—and regrettably am unlikely to change at this stage.In short, I am merely a two finger typist—albeit a practiced one.

My natural book writing pace—which allows time for thinking, re-reading (and making tea) is about 2,000 words a day. I have done nearly twice as much on occasions, but I can’t sustain the higher pace—and don’t need to.

This now brings up the question of when to write. If you have a day job, you may not have much choice in the matter—you write when you can.

If you are a full time professional, then I always recommend writing when you are at your freshest—which means first thing in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

I had a very close friend, Niall Fallon—a true prince of a man, now sadly dead before his time—who argued strongly that writing required full time commitment. He spoke from experience having written several books while also having a  day job—but he felt he would have done a better job if his focus on writing had been total.  He was preaching to the converted. He was also an exception. Most people seem to think that if you love writing sufficiently, you can hold down a job and still find the time to write. Many do just that—and they have my admiration—but it’s not the same thing.

Writing is a serious and immensely time-consuming business which demands everything you have in you—and more besides. It deserves that level of effort. Its rewards are immense—and, with luck, you may make a little money too.

Make a start. You can have breakfast later.


No comments:

Post a Comment