Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Writing Life

Over on Speculating About Fiction, my friend T has been speculating on what a writer's life entails. The full-time job, writing eight hours a day and doing nothing else? Or fitting writing around a life that includes a job, family, hobbies and other commitments?
I posted a comment, then thought I might expand. I've had this conversation before with my friend K, who is a full-time children's writer in Texas. And it came up again with my 7 Day Writing Plan recently. I found it quite difficult to sit in the chair for a solid two hours, seven days in a row! And felt like a writing wuss. You read all the time about writers who go into their office and shut the door at 9am and don't come out until 5pm. I think: If that was me, I'd eventually go nuts. I love being home alone and writing, but not eight straight hours. Apart from anything else, my RSI would kill me.
So I ask, how many 9-5 writers are spending 8 hours pounding the keyboard? Feel free to comment or reply to my question!!
K and I decided that the full-time writer's life is actually a mosaic of reading, research, thinking, planning, diagramming, letting the subconscious help out, daydreaming, and typing. That's what, to me, being able to write full-time does. It gives you total headspace for your book. You live the book. You dream it. You can hold it in your head. You think up new stuff for it, you solve plot problems, your characters grow and become more real, you have time for extra research for setting and atmosphere as well as facts.
Not being a full-time writer means:
1. When work takes over (or family, or whatever that's unavoidable when you have a life to manage), the book moves back. And if you're out there too long, the book moves so far away from you that it takes you quite a bit of time and work to get back inside it again.
2. You can't hold the book in your head. Sometimes you will, for short periods, then you lose your grip on it again. Instead, you learn to make lots of notes. Lots of them.
3. You can only work on one book at a time, in terms of your devotion. I've tried juggling several, and have given up. The books suffer. You have to decide which one matters the most to you, and give it your all. If it happens to be the one that turns out to be not publishable, you feel like you've wasted valuable time.
4. When your time is precious, but you want the book to be publishable, you can fall into the trap of making it too safe. It's a dilemma.
5. But the other side of this can be - if you are earning a living with your job, you are able to write whatever you want. The money doesn't enter into it. It's a juggling act for most people.
6. Being a teacher of creative writing adds to the problem. I am often inspired by my students and my own enthusiasm for what I'm teaching. But reading, commenting, workshopping and grading their writing can kill my writing zest for weeks at a time.
Over the years, I think I've developed my own writing methods that suit my life - I do a lot of thinking and planning (more than I used to), so that when I sit at the keyboard, I can type fast and get it all on the page. If I get stuck, I go for a walk or do something else for a while. Usually when I come back to it, away I go again.
I wrote 21,000 words in the 7 Day Plan I committed to. I couldn't have done that if I hadn't already known probably 60% of what I was going to write (because it was a 7th draft, starting from scratch again). A completely new novel would be half that pace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just opened the door to the World of Blogs. I feel they could be a trap insofar as the reader could be using the time for writing. But reading this blog and our mutual friend's (T's), I feel my resolution to do more writing has been made stronger by your down-to-earth recognition of every-day hindrances. Thanks.