Writing, Habits Of Work

Well, why not call it work habits?  Good question since the money makers are interviewed and asked about their work habits or write their books on writing.  There is always the usual have that one room or one spot in a room that you use as your work space.  True enough, because if you have a nine to five job you go to work each day, Monday through Friday and have your own office or desk or work station.  On the other hand if you have ever worked in a call canter for Dish Networks you come to work and each time you are in a different desk, you aren’t allowed to claim your space in the company.  I think that has to do with the very high rate of turnover.  But you want to be a writer and do great things so you must claim some spot as your own.  The fact is, you really don’t need that special spot and would be better off without the usual customizing we humans are prone to do.  A table and chair, preferably a straight back type, is all you need.  And you would be better served if you either wrote in long hand or used an old type writer.  The problem with using your laptop is that you are very likely to be tempted to surf the net when you should be writing.  True, I like my laptop since I have great difficulty with spelling and it is handy for looking up information.  But the truth of the matter is that you will learn more by looking up words using a dictionary and thesaurus by hand and engaging in doing your own editing.

But writing involves a great deal of research.  I know, you just want to tell a story.  But if you are going to do a good Wikipedia type of bio on each of your characters, then you will need to know a fair amount of information.  Your setting takes its own pile of research, and so do all those little things that get added into novels or short stories.  Very few of us are capable of novel writing in which there are only a couple of characters who have homogeneous backgrounds and vanilla yearnings.  The point is, put it down on paper and do not depend on your mind to remember every detail.  I don’t know of any writer, past or present, who can carry a complete revised and edited novel in their heads and then proceed to spew forth in one or two days this great work of fiction.  Writing is hard and reflective work.  That modern artist who does a painting a day is merely throwing paint onto a canvas, he ain’t doing art.  Writing is not about fads.  Those who say they wish to do ‘cutting edge’ writing simply do not understand the craft or the art.  You only get one chance to impress someone with your writing and that is when they start reading, usually from the beginning, and decide if you are worth their time.  There is no shortcut to being read.  So think carefully where and how you want to write.  Time of day is important.  Many of us are far better off getting up at the same time each morning and working on our writing.  Some professional authors will not even make a cup of coffee because they do not want the distraction.  I find that if I get myself out of bed at an early enough hour such as six am and no later than seven am I can produce a fair number of words or pages, depending on the subject or project.  Sometimes I get in the habit of waking up about six am and lying in bed for a half hour just thinking about what I want to write,  I use that time between dream land and fully awake to let my mind simply deal with a problem or create some improvement.  Some of you are better suited to getting up, doing the morning exercise, have a little breakfast and then sitting down to write.  The point is that you need a good and constant routine.  Writing is a job in which you literally go to work the same as your neighbor who has a factory job.  You need to clock in each morning and put in a full days work.

And that is the other thing,  If you can spend two or three hours actually writing that will be sufficient.  The usual novel is divided into parts, usually about two or three pages at the most.  It is difficult to write more than that each day.  You are not going to write your short story or novel in one or two days,  You see, there is editing to be done,  No writer ever gets it write in one pass.  It takes time to think of the dialogue, to perceive the descriptions that are used, to do a little discourse and explanation.  You have to get it out of your head and that takes time.  So use the double space and wide margins, you will need that for proof reading and editing.  One of the best reasons for using a type writer is that when you make the corrections you have to retype it all and that allows you to double read and contemplate what you have written.  Then when you have made the changes, let the pages sit.  You can read them tonight and then put them to bed.  Meanwhile you need a little activity, so go and do something.  Go for a walk, brown bag a lunch somewhere.  Attend to the shopping and bill paying.  Because in the afternoon and evening you need to read.  As I said, this is a craft and one learns from doing.  When I learn a physical craft the first thing I had to do was watch a journeyman work, do his stuff.  If he was good he could explain a lot of his technique.  There was an order to the work to be done and one watched, simply watched as the work was being done.  I took note of not only how something was being done but why.  I asked questions, and believe me, when I look back many of those questions were dumb ones.  But it is how you learn a craft.  That’s why reading is the key for you to learn your craft well.  Every writer worth your time to read is different, has a different approach, different way of using ideas, sees a different perspective of the world.

It amazes me how many kids come out of college thinking they know how to write.  It’s not the professor who teaches you how to write, it is you, yourself.  A craft teaches you that framework of acceptable quality.  Each craftsman does the work slightly different and each craftsman quality is a little better or a little worse, but it is all withing that quality standard.  You teach yourself the craft of writing.  And it includes that thing called creativity.  Some of you will never have that genius of creativity that lands you the honors of publication and money.  Many of you will grub your entire lives writing what you can.  That is a fact of life and it is not a matter of grade point average or MacArthur grants.  Many a genius never lives up to expectations, and that is a fact.  Writing is not a habit, something that is done almost unconsciously, it is a habit of work.  You don’t have to think about it as work, you simply do because you can and want to do.  I may dream of retiring from my job as a day laborer but that is not something you do as a writer, there is no retirement, you never think of a retirement, it is a part of you and your personality, you are the main character in your life’s story.


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