Archive for September, 2010

Creating the habit of writing

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Since I’ve been called upon twice in the past week to share this advice, I guess it would be appropriate to include it here, to share with my audience of spammers: If you’re stuck in your writing, if you’ve let that crucial day (or two, or more) go by without working on whatever project you have and now find yourself in a creative desert, this is how to fix the situation:

Set aside one hour a day and write during that hour. That sounds easier than it is, so here are some other rules to follow: That hour must be at the same time every day. During that hour, write nothing except the project you want to get back to. Do not think during that hour. It may be tempting to do so, because your inertia will create storms of sudden pseudo-creativity in your mind. You must not pay attention to these, as they are meant to distract you. The inspiration for a fabulous new recipe. The solution to your perennial babysitting problem. The answer to your financial woes. Do not listen; they are not real.

What is real will be the one thing that seems unreal: the dreck that you are writing. What I’m saying, to spell it out, is to write really fast, without giving any thought at all to what you’re writing except that it’s connected with your project. Now, this will be a lot easier if you know beforehand what you want to write about. If it’s a novel, you would do well to have at least a vague idea of what you want to happen. It doesn’t matter, though, if it’s not crystal clear to you. That, believe it or not, will come out in your writing.

Prepare to throw a lot of what you’re doing in this hour away. In fact, your first few days may seem completely worthless. Just tell yourself that what you’re writing isn’t as worthless as the nothing you’ve been writing prior to this experiment. What will happen is that slowly something will evolve from the words you’re putting on the page. And it will be something of value.

I know, it sounds astonishing, miraculous, impossible. But it works. You must do this for 28 days, the length of time it takes to form a habit, although you will probably find your way back to your book long before your month is up. But you do want to form the habit. Otherwise, as soon as your inspiration leaves, you’ll stop writing again.

Other rules: Write in longhand. That connects your mind to your heart.I know that sounds woo-woo, but I speak from experience. I compose at the computer most of the time. I’m doing it now. But when I have something sensitive to write, something difficult or subtle, or if I don’t know exactly how to get to where I’m going from where I am, I write in longhand. In a safe place. (If you don’t know what I mean by a safe place, you don’t need one.) Once you’re out of the woods, go back to the  keyboard.

Also, write whatever comes into your mind, but keep focused. Resist the temptation to write about your mother, spouse, child, or arch-nemesis — these are the subjects for therapy, not publication. Believe me, I know. My ten-year hiatus was spent mostly ruminating about broken relationships. What a waste.

Most importantly, don’t judge your work. Don’t even consider it to be work. Just call it scribbling. Block happens when the author forgets that he is god. He feels, at times, that he’s not good enough to be god. That’s he’s not good enough to be anything. But he — you — is the only creator your book has. You are not playing god. You ARE, and it is necessary to your work that you are. So forget trying to be good enough to publish. Just concentrate on bringing your book to life by finishing it. It does deserve to be finished, doesn’t it?

If, after 28 consecutive days of writing, you still don’t know what you’re doing — or if you can’t make it to 28 days — then man up and admit that you’re not yet ready to work on something so difficult, and give yourself a break. But if you’re serious about your craft, and you are ready to bring forth your creation, this technique will help.

By the way, I’m writing again, and even swimming again. Crisis over. I do follow my own advice.

rude awakening

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I just found out that every one of the “comments” I’ve received has been a disguised link to other websites. Which means that no one, literally NO ONE, has been reading this blog. Okay, so my first feelings are of shame and humiliation. But wait. There’s always something good inside something bad, and vice versa, and this is no exception. What’s good here is that I can write anything I like! It’s like being in your bedroom alone. You can do anything you want!

Spammers, eat shit.

Death vs. Writing

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Before I begin, I need to note that a number of comments I’ve gotten have come in the form of computer code. Since I’m no expert at any of this, I don’t know if that’s because what was sent was spam to begin with, or what, but I’ve marked it as spam and deleted it. So if you’re someone who sent an honest comment (I’m amazed at how many people send ADS… How tacky!) and I deleted it, that’s why.

Now, ahem. Oh, yes, death. A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I almost drowned. Okay, that’s kind of dramatic. I got a charlie horse in my leg while swimming in an indoor pool. I’m sure I wouldn’t have drowned. There were plenty of people around at the time, including a lifeguard and a thoughtful woman who leaped past the lap ropes to hold my head above water while I struggled — well, flailed and panicked, if we’re going to be literal about it — with the lump of cement that had suddenly grown inside my calf. But I wasn’t capable of such rational thought at the moment,  having convinced myself that Death was a tentacled thing lurking in the water beneath me.

After the lifeguard — a girl, and I do mean GIRL (she looked as if she’d just come from Kiddie Gym & Swim) managed to haul me  out of the water, a friendly woman walked me to the hot tub, where a kindly gentleman showed me how to pull my toes backward in case it happens again (Tears spring to my eyes at the very thought). And then everything went back to normal. People stopped staring. I stopped shaking, took a long shower, went home…

And I couldn’t write anything.

Now, I NEVER get writer’s block. I don’t even believe in it. I always advocate writing through any psychological pickle, from worrying about money to being embroiled in a bad romance. But this time, I just couldn’t follow my own advice. It wasn’t that I kept thinking about drowning. I was just on High Alert, as if I were walking along the edge of a razorblade with screeching metallic noise all around me.

After a couple of fruitless hours at my computer, I went to bed to write in longhand. This almost always works. But it didn’t. I ended up reading two novels, moving furniture, going grocery shopping, and watching TV until midnight. It was the first day I’d missed in a couple of years.

I still haven’t picked it up. That’s why I’m writing this instead. Oh, I’m sure I will, and I’ll tell you about it, but the whole situation has made me think about how fragile the thread that holds us to our creativity is. Any disturbance — the kids are sick, your parents are aging, your spouse is acting like an a-hole — and that delicate lifeline quivers. And when something big happens, something like trauma, serious illness, or grief, that gossamer thread can snap in an instant and leave you unanchored in the void.

I’m sure that my embarrassing little scene yesterday was a quiver, not a snap. But it reminded me that my thread had snapped, once, some time ago. After my divorce, I didn’t write for ten years. well, I wrote, but nothing productive, no novels. This and that, and a hundred journals trying to get myself to understand how my life had gone so wrong.

I’ve regretted that ten-year hiatus more than anything, especially since it occurred just as my career was headed for what I thought would be Big Things. I’d had three bestsellers, a huge movie sale, an article on the front page of Variety, and a multi-book contract. And then I quit writing. I can’t blame anyone but myself — if you don’t write,  you can’t call yourself a writer. But I was a rocket soaring into space, and then, because of my self-indulgent despair, I sent myself crashing into the desert.

So anyway, my experience yesterday has given me a modicum of understanding about why writers sometimes don’t write. Maybe it’s not always a lack of discipline, or having nothing to say, or being unskilled, or not being able to face the fact that one is a failure. I’ve been that harsh on others who’ve come to me saying that they’re writers who can’t write. And far, far harsher on myself.

I’m thinking now that maybe my cruelty was unwarranted. Because it’s possible that sometimes things just happen. Sometimes you get the elevator, and sometimes you get the shaft. Does a bear shit in the woods? Sometimes. At other times, it shits on you. And when it does, sometimes we can’t write. Sometimes all we can do is quake and cry and hope that someday we’ll get another  chance.

So I’m going to try to be a little kinder to all of us, including myself. Life is long enough to accommodate a few mistakes. We don’t have to win the race, or swim it perfectly. We just have to keep our heads above water. And if we need help even doing that, well, that’s okay, too. I’ll bend your toes if you’ll bend mine.

Inspiration vs. Perspiration

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Every serious writer — that is, people who write when they’re not compelled to by class assignments — knows what it’s like to run out of inspiration. When this happens, most of us stop writing, sometimes forever. That’s because every day you don’t write makes it twice as hard to pick up where you left off. If I had one piece of advice to give to every beginning writer on the planet, it would be to write every day, whether what you write is any good or not.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was a FictionWriting major in college. Which means I ought to have learned all about technique before I ever made it to the real world, right? Absolutely wrong. I don’t recall hearing much except that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “There” or write in fragments, or plagiarize. What you should do, I was told, is to explore your Inner Rage.

Maybe that’s no longer true. I went to school during the Basket Weaving Is As Valuable As Mathematics-era, which I guess would bring out anyone’s inner rage. What I’m saying is that I think it’s dumb to “teach” content, when we all have zillions of stories to tell, and enough inner rage to bring a fleet of Titan rockets to lift-off, and not teach things like How to Write a Realistic Conversation (it’s nothing like a REAL conversation, which is full of idiocies and empty courtesies), or How to Deliver Backstory, or How Point Of View Affects Plot Development. These are the things I would teach if I were teaching, because they’re the tools we use every day, whether we feel rage or bliss or untrammeled horniness.

Probably the most important tool, though, is knowing how to write without inspiration. I think that many a would-be writer has set down his pen in despair for lack of this one very valuable piece of information. Briefly, it is this: Whether you write in the heat of inspiration or plod along in your left brain, constantly correcting and tweaking, THE RESULT IS THE SAME. I’m serious. Inspiration just enables you to write faster and have more fun; it doesn’t ensure a better end product. I was amazed when I first realized this, amazed and thrilled, because it means that when you are empty, when your mind is as electrifying as cold farina, when you know nothing about your subject, when you’d rather be scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush than writing, you can still write well. It may take longer, and you’ll almost certainly have to rewrite at least some of your work, but you won’t be writing stuff you have to throw out.

So have faith. You CAN do it,. It WILL get done. Beauties aren’t always born beautiful. If you don’t believe me, look at your own baby pictures. And then write about them.