Thursday, June 8, 2017

Get That Shit Writ

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey kids!  I know you were expecting a post from Cheryl today, but unfortunately she had a family emergency, so we'll be switching slots this month.

Cheryl's situation, and my own (right now, I'm sitting at my day job, barely able to keep my eyes open, staring at a blank blog entry) have got me thinking of all the things that come between a writer and his craft.

Family is an obvious one.  I don't have kids myself, but I know that kids are just a great big existential time suck.  (I'd say "present company excluded," but, sorry, kids, you are.)  But you don't need the daily humdrum of getting kids dressed, bathed, schooled, etc. to be distracted by family.  Emergencies can come up that force you to leave the soothing warm light of the computer screen.  Sometimes I'm dealing with various grudges and fights that keep me distracted and not really in a good mood for writing.  And all this is not even to bear in mind the simple pleasures of spending time with your loved ones.

I already mentioned the big one: the eight hours a day I have to spend working a real job to support my writing habit.  Sometimes you can sneak some writing in during the slow times of the work day, but it's not exactly the optimal time and place for creation, unless you have a very laissez-faire boss.

But aside from the usual rhythm of daily life, for a writer there's a lot of what I'd call "writing adjacent activities."  For instance, editing.  As important as editing is to the process, well, it's not really creating a new work, is it?  And then there's research.  I spent three hours yesterday afternoon in a coffeeshop interviewing a psychic medium about the supernatural world.  (No, I'm not kidding.)  That, at least, has the sheen of legitimate research, which is more than I can say about all the time I spend googling things like "when was the matchstick invented?"  How about marketing?  How much time do I spend buying and placing ads, or attending events and giving speeches?  Quite a bit, actually.  Signing books sure seems like an authorly thing to do, but it ain't authoring.

Writing adjacent activities also devolve from the very legitimate stuff described in the last pargraph to the more...tenuous.  I'm talking about Facebook.  I'm talking about Twitter.  I'm talking about reading industry blogs like this one.  You need to respond to your fans, or they'll stop reading you.  You need to reach out to your fanbase, or you won't have one.  You need to stay abreast of the publishing world or you won't have a place in it.  But does that article I read last night about the 22 Weirdest Things Wonder Woman Ever Did really contribute to my writing?  Eh...not so much.  But I did see it on Facebook.  There's a gray area, or perhaps I should say a blurring of the lines, between actively marketing yourself on social media and just fucking around on social media.

So how does one push aside all the stuff that gets in the way and actually ever get anything written?  Here are a few ideas:

1.)  Set Aside a Time Every Day To Write

I don't do this.  I won't lie.  I just don't.  But, I have heard that it helps to set up a routine and stick to it.  Lord knows you probably follow your routine every day, even if you don't know you do.  Some people swear by waking up an hour early to just write.  (It also helps that the kids are still abed, nasty little buggers.)  Others want to wait until the end of the night when they can relax for an hour.  I've heard it said that the best thing you do all day is the first thing you do, and things get gradually worse as you go.  But I also tend more toward the writing at night thing.  Other people just have to pick out a certain time - 5pm after the whistle blows, or maybe during their lunch hour, or what-have-you.

2.)  Set a Daily Word Count For Yourself

Now, this I have done, and, even if I do say so myself, it worked like a charm.  First let me emphasize: your daily word count needs to be peanuts.  If you set it at a thousand or two thousand words, you're just going to fail every day and feel terrible about yourself and exacerbate the whole not writing issue.  I once set my daily word count at three hundred words and it was absolutely perfect.  No matter how criminally sick or overworked I feel, I can steal the odd half-hour over the course of the day to write three hundred words.  And three hundred is just low enough that once I actually write that many, I almost always feel like I have to keep going.  And that meant I was doubling, tripling, even quintupling my word goal on good days, and I felt awesome about myself.  On crumbum days I just had to meet it, and that was always possible.  I met my word count goal every single day until I finished an entire novel.

3.)  Use "Cookie Scenes"

One thing that I find discourages me from writing is the long swathes of crap work you have to do to actually get a novel written.  Create a character.  Create a world.  Make him walk from point A to point B.  Have this vital plot point.  Drop this vital clue.  A lot of it is necessary, but dull.  Usually, though, all the table-setting is a means to a feast.  You have that one kick-ass action scene in mind.  You've been dying to write this steamy sex scene.  There's a big reveal where the villain admits he was the one who drained the lake.  These are the parts that are fun and exciting and genuinely electrifying to write.  I call these "cookie scenes."  They're like a little treat you get after you've done your homework and eaten your vegetables.  Well, guess what?  If you're excited to write a cookie scene, go write it!  It's better to be excited about your writing (although don't worry too much about always being excited about it - writing is writing, whether you're digging it or not, your audience won't care.)  So write that cookie scene while you're all hot and bothered about it.  It's better to write it now rather than do all the heavy lifting and suddenyl realize that your excitement for the big climactic duel has cooled.  You'll even find, I think, that as you write cookie scenes you'll start to realize all the stuff you needed to include before to serve as connective tissue between cookie scenes.  Then go back and fill in that stuff later.  You may even feel more motivated to do so now that you see how that backstory or whatever connects to the fun bits.

What about you?  How do you get your butt in the chair to cut through all the daily distractions of life?  Let me know in the comments below!


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I find this political climate detrimental to my productivity. I kid you not. Also, my kids are big time sucks.

Carrie Beckort said...

I've been bad about distractions this past year. My biggest was in the form of our new puppy. It's true that puppies are a lot like babies. I didn't want her destroying the house yet I didn't want to crate her all day, so that meant constant attention. I like the small word count goal suggestion. I should try that.

Jonathan Schramm said...

Thanks, Steve! I needed this today. I too like the small word count suggestion. I used to do 1,000 before that little time-sucker (aka my 2 1/2 year-old) came along. Now it's definitely time to readjust. 300 sounds doable. I'm definitely going to try that. Maybe even today! Thanks for the inspiration, sir! Good points all around.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I know what you mean on both counts. Alternatively you could always use the political climate as nightmare fuel...

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

It definitely works! I can't imagine dealing with a new puppy. I hope she's getting more self-reliant now.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I'd take credit but I actually stole the idea from Chuck Wendig. Hope it works for you!

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