Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Daily Grind
I don’t know about you, but for me sometimes writing can be a stone chore. I sit there at the keyboard or with pen in hand and the words get stuck in my head. It’s not a block, it’s sluggishness. Who knew writing could be drudgery?
Therein lies the problem. I’d like to make a living at this. Trouble is, even on the best of days I’m not what you’d call speedy. My usual output is one or two pages a day. That’s maybe 1000 words if all goes swimmingly. A career can be built on that, if you’ve got 10 or 20 years to spare. I was hoping to move it along a little faster, but caffeine only takes you so far.
Some days it’s okay. I’ll get caught up in the story and whip out five pages or more. Over the years I’ve discovered that even on a good day I can only work about three or four hours straight before enthusiasm starts to flag. I try to make the most of those times, and whip out as many words as possible.
Then there are the bad days. You know what they’re like: when you know you should be writing, but the dishes are piling up in the sink and you’re almost out of underwear and the fridge is looking a little sparse inside and when’s the last time you vacuumed? Trust me, I’m good at frittering away writing time. With a little practice, laundry or trips to the grocery store can take up the bulk of the afternoon. Afterwards you take a TV break. Why not? It takes effort to scrub those dinner plates. You earned it.
In the end, though, the blank screen and the empty page just won’t go away. If I want to make a serious go of this, sooner or later I’m going to have to fill them up.
Back in 2006, after years of sporadic writing and waiting for inspiration but mostly goofing off, I made a vow: I would write something every day. It might be several pages. It might be a paragraph. But it would be writing. Not notes, not outlines, not a list of excuses on why I couldn’t put pen to paper on that particular day. If I couldn’t advance my current WIP, or had no current, WIP, I’d write a scene or a character sketch or a flash piece of a couple hundred words. Typing up a longhand draft or editing pages counts because I always make substantial changes every time I have a go at a story. As long as I made an effort, and produced some form of fiction so I could hold my head up and face myself in the mirror and truthfully say I wrote that day.
That was July 1, 2006. To date I have not missed a day.
Sometimes it’s tough. Sometimes I have to force myself to put down a couple of lines. I’ve had periods where the daily writing was a string of entries in my “flash book.” But I wrote every day. Dang, I feel just like a professional.
It’s paid off, too. Some of the scenes jotted down in the flash book have led to stories and novels. It’s a great place to stockpile ideas. Whenever I hit a dry spell I go back and read over these to see if they spark anything. Maybe a page a day isn’t much, but write a page every day and at the end of a year you’ve got yourself a novel. It’s like a muscle. You use it on a regular basis, you exercise it every day, and it gets stronger and stronger.
Maybe it’s time for a new vow. How about two pages a day? The dishes can wait another couple of hours, and nothing’s on TV anyway. I could probably cram two pages in between the endless commercials. This is the perfect time to establish new and better habits, with snow season coming on and nippy temps urging me to stay indoors. By next spring I should have enough manuscripts stockpiled to take the summer off. Then I can head down to the shore for a week and write my two daily pages on the beach. Definitely a goal to shoot for.