Elizabeth Spann Craig, on her blog Mystery Writing is Murder (August 11, 2011) wrote:
“You can usually tell when someone really loves to write.
“The writing seems animated, sparkling, sharp. When I volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school, there are some stories that even really young children have written that just pop off the page.”
Boy, I couldn’t agree more. Looking back over my life as a writer, from second grade onward, through all the various stages up through showing up (near the bottom, I’ll admit, but hell, I was on it) The New York Times hardcover fiction best sellers list, and then on to books that didn’t do as well, then another that did very nicely, and so on, I have to admit that there were times when I was writing for other reasons than simply for the love of the game. I’ve had some experiences, as a professional writer, where every word seemed to come from some dry, chafed place, some waste-disposal repository . . . every sentence was an act of self-mutilation.
Well, that might be putting it a little strongly, but I’m a fantasy writer, man, so what the hell?
I had a great time with the urban fantasy novel currently making the rounds with editors, and I hope it shows in the writing. But even more so than that, I’m having a blast with The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff. I gave you a sneak preview of this sword and sorcery project a few weeks ago here, and I’m still working my way through the first draft, albeit much more slowly than I like.
But, Phil, you ask, if you love this book so much, why aren’t you setting everything else aside to blast your way through it, loving every second you spend at the keyboard?
I can give you excuses about how I’m also a father of two and need to make a living out here in the Great Depression II, and consulting work and freelance assignments, and so on—which I also love to do, by the way, so this isn’t some kind of I-have-this-horrible-day-job-I-have-to-wade-through complaint, but yeah, that has a lot to do with it.
Mel and I are out on our own with this one, editing each other, publishing it (eventually) ourselves, and daily life like bills and kids going back to school and my wife starting a new job and yadda yadda yadda interferes. And football season has started, and I’ve lost my first fantasy football game. There’s got to be an excuse in there somewhere for not finishing what’s really a novella, and one I adore, which I should have finished two months ago . . . but I can’t really think of anything.
Even when I love what I’m writing, I can’t seem to get back to those days where I was just a writing machine.
So like a good 21st century American, I went to the internet for help. There I found Michael Agger’s Slate article “Slowpoke: How to be a Faster Writer” in which he offered this advice:
“Since writing is such a cognitively intense task, the key to becoming faster is to develop strategies to make writing literally less mind-blowing. Growing up, we all become speedier writers when our penmanship becomes automatic and we no longer have to think consciously about subject-verb agreement. It’s obviously a huge help to write about a subject you know well. In that case, the writer doesn’t have to keep all of the facts in her working memory, freeing up more attention for planning and composing.”
Writing fast is always something that’s haunted me, because it’s never entirely eluded me. I’ve gone through periods where I’m amazingly productive, but it’s been a while since I can say I was truly in one of those productive periods.
In an upcoming Fantasy Author’s Handbook interview, I asked veteran author Alan Dean Foster how he can have been so prolific for so long. Here’s his answer:
“Discipline. Write every day, even if it’s only one page, even if it’s lousy. The trick is to get from page 1 to page 350. Once you’ve done that, you can go back and fix and revise. Too many people try to make each page perfect as they write it, or worse, wait for “inspiration.” The inspiration will come as you work. Write one page a day, every day, and at the end of the year, if nothing else, you’ll have written a novel.”
But discipline is hard.
Still, I’m a to do list guy. I’m a Mac maniac and love the little Stickies app, which allows you to create virtual Post-Its to park on your desktop. I have my to do list on one of those (supplemented by Entourage) so I can see it while I’m at my desk. I love the feeling of highlighting an item and deleting it, which means I’ve done it. And I despise the feeling of highlighting it and cutting it from today to paste into tomorrow, which means I’m pushing work back a day. In fact, I’ve added a new to do list item to Friday, which I hope will compel me to finish all hanging to do list items for the week before I call it a day on Friday.
This coming Friday will be the first of those. Let’s see how that works, especially since one of tomorrow’s 13 to do list items is:
> FINISH ARRON
I’ve tried to write two chapters of The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff every day, which is about 3000 words in all, and my to do list reflects that—or at least it did. Now, for today, Tuesday 9/13/11, I have this item:
> Arron 17-22
Hmm. That’s six chapters, or three days’ worth, which is about 9000 words, and there are only 23 chapters in the outline, so I’m really about 10,500 words out from the finish line.
I’ve written 10,000 words in a day before, racing a deadline, and it left me with a great sense of accomplishment, and a bunch of unfinished to do list items.
Can I do this again? Can I identify the stuff on my to do list that absolutely has to be done this week for me to keep the lights on, then strip away all the extra stuff—and there is some extra stuff, I have to admit—and get this project done?
Goals have to be realistic, after all, otherwise they’re called dreams.
But again, I have written 10,000 words in a day.
It all boils down to this: I love writing this story. And I deserve to spend at least part of everyday doing something I love, don’t I?