Monday, December 04, 2006

Discipline and the Writer

I've just taken a month off writing and am now blinking at my list of projects as I decide which one to start on next. Wisdom dictates I ease back in with the one I know will be easiest or more fun to write, but they're all stories I've been planning for a while and am itching to write. What happens when you take personal time, however, is that your writing muscle seems to atrophy. Much like exercising, you have to go through the aches and pains, the stops and starts, all over again. The flow seems to dry up.

It seems when you sign up to the writing gig you're taking on a lifestyle. Writing is a way of life. It seems that those who write religiously every day are those that seem to be more prolific, whereas those who take breaks seem to find it harder to climb back on the writing horse again. The procrastination bug seems to bite them hard, the blank page seems impossible to fill, and disaster and despair looms as the resulting fear blocks any creativity.

I've always been fascinated by prolific writers who can write up to 9 or 10 full novels a year with relative ease. I've pored over their working methods, thinking to emulate them if I just found out their 'secret'. It seems to be bum in seat however for x number of hours a day. Nothing mysterious about that, just an iron will that enforces a strict discipline. Came rain or shine, they're tapping away at their keyboard. Ideas seem never-ending to these writers, the words seem to flow, characters appear and interact, the story ends - and on to the next book.

Apart from the discipline, a great number of them seem to write with their internal completely switched off. The first draft is written fast and furiously, just getting it all down. Editing is reserved for the second and future drafts. I've noted a number of modern prolific authors who do this: Nora Roberts/JD Robb and Lyn Viehl (who explains this method in her ebook The Way of the Cheetah), and other-era writers such as Barbara Cartland, Enid Blyton, Georges Simenon and John Creasey - who all vie for the title of the most prolific author ever with up to 600 titles on their resumes.

I think you need to be a little bit driven to reach these dizzy heights in production, however. While I long to be amongst their number for sheer volume I haven't the discipline or, I suspect, the Type A personality necessary to achieve it. I'm fascinated by what motivates them, however. I can't imagine it's just the money. Most of them were wealthy well before their deaths, and their output barely suffered afterwards. So what do you think would motivate someone to achieve this kind of production?


Skylar Masey said...

I ran across a beautiful pen case engraved with a quote that says:
"You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you've got something to say." — F. Scott Fitzgerald

That sums it up for me. I write because I have a story I want others to know, chracters I want them to meet so we can chat about them over coffee. And perhaps in knowing them, readers will get to know me.

I took a month off after finishing my lap WIP, and had to ease back into my schedule. Then I got hurt, and couldn't write. Which honestly pissed me off. Then I got TOV's edits so I was forced back in my seat, or should I say perched on my bed with my makeshift desk, otherwise known as the boardgame Operation. So now I'm back in the swing of 4 hours plus a day.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

I'm not sure I could take a break from writing. I feel rusty after goofing off for a weekend [where goofing off means doing laundry, cleaning, attending family obligations rather than lounging around at my artfully cluttered desk writing].

I'd like to be one of those prolific writers someday - I have enough ideas. Right now I'm just limited by the number of hours in the day and the number of small domestic fires I must put out on an hourly basis, such as who forgot their lunch money and who can't find their socks.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I can answer that for you. Me, who at anyone time has about 15 projects open and character files on about 10 others going: I don't have a life outside of writing and going to work. It's a good thing my husband is going to school and working right now or we would never see each other. I would be tucked up in my office like a mole. house is a disaster at any given moment. I haven't dusted in about a year. No lie. But then a writing instructor of mine once said, "If you want to be a serious writer, something has to give. It might as well be housework." Good enough for me!!! My husband, who sat behind me in this class just rolled his eyes and muttered, "Oh great," at my smug smile. - I'd just been given permission to let the vacuuming go, or the laundry to pile up until we really needed clean underwear. Also I work full time, but am fortunate enough to do that in 3 12-hour shifts a week. Having four days off and about six weeks of vacation time a year, tends to help a great deal in giving me a flexible enough schedule to write.
I'm definately a homebody, but do like to do some fun things. I'm planning a day out with the girls from work in February. We're going into the City to see Le Miz when it returns to Broadway. But as you see....I plan activities like that very far in advance.


Cassandra Kane said...

Most of them were wealthy well before their deaths, and their output barely suffered afterwards.

Just realised this makes it sound like they were still writing after their death. *sigh* I meant their output barely suffered after they were wealthy.

I wish I wasn't as distracted by the housework as I am, but I can't write when I know it has to be done. The guilt weighs heavily.

Xandra Gregory said...

I think the trick is to make the most of your writing time. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said to have "a room of one's own" for writing and artistic creativity and such.

Dorothy Parker never met my kids.

As writers, we can't let ourselves stop living life. If we're hermits, how are we supposed to express our truths about the human condition when we don't observe and participate in it?

One of the exercises suggested for pre-NaNo-ing is to map out your schedule and see where you can "find" writing time - waiting for the laundry to get through the wash or the dryer, cleaning for 15 minutes, then taking a break and writing for 15 minutes (this is a great one for me. I make myself write for 15 minutes, and when my attention wanders, I make myself load the dishwasher or put a load in the laundry. I'm surprised how eager I am to get back to the writing when the alternative is cleaning, LOL).

Back in a past issue of the RWR, someone wrote an article about identifying your core story. I noticed that when I write stories with my core story theme to them, they tend to come out faster and with fewer drafts. Maybe the fast writers are the ones who know their core stories.

Great topic, Cassandra!

Lynda K. Scott said...

I'm a big advocaate of the 15 min On - 15 min Off writing technique. I work full time (sometimes 10-11 hours days) so weekends are the housecleaning/family things BUT they're also the best time for me to write. The 15-15 rule is fabulous for that.