Friday, January 22, 2010

Get Serious

When authors are asked for their writing advice, many of them say something like this: “Write every day.” Or as Stephen King recommends in his book On Writing, read and write “four to six hours a day, every day.” This piece of advice has been uttered so many times it’s become a rule of writing. Want to be a writer? Write every day. End of discussion.

I’m a freelance copy editor who works forty to sixty hours a week. As a single woman with no other source of income, I have to work that much. I’m supposed to find four to six hours a day, every day, to read and write?

Let me go into some detail here. I sleep seven hours a night—maximum. I rarely watch television. I take care of two energetic and slightly troubled shelter dogs and try to keep my house clean enough to prevent the neighbors from complaining about a “funny smell.” And I don’t sweat the smaller stuff. I leave the dishes in the sink when I have to, let the checkbook go unbalanced, and allow dog fur to join forces with dust and form disturbingly large bunnies. And I still can’t find the time to write every day.

My schedule is somewhat different from King’s. According to On Writing, King writes in the morning (his goal is 2,000 words a day), naps and writes letters in the afternoon, and spends his evenings reading, watching the Red Sox on TV, and, if necessary, working on revisions. He also walks several miles a day. His walk alone would take up most of my free time on any given day. (I have just this one quibble with King’s book; it is, in fact, one of the finest books on writing out there.)

The Write Every Day Rule (or versions of it) goes unchallenged much of the time. Every aspiring novelist I know wants to write every day—and not a single one of them can. Which is fine, their problem, except this rule implies they’re ipso facto not serious and not going to make it as writers. I give up my social life for more than a year to plot and write my book and I’m not serious? My dogs think my office chair is a removable part of my anatomy and I’m not serious?

Not serious, never going to make it. For those of us who aren’t kids anymore, who have adult responsibilities and an ever-shrinking number of years in which to fulfill our dreams, that’s a spirit-crushing pronouncement. Imagine the discouragement mothers of young children or men who work overtime to support their families feel when they’re told they’re never going to make it as writers simply because, talent aside, they’re not going about it right. Why even get started? Just pack away the computer.

I’ve come up with my own rules of writing. Write as often as you can. Work hard. If God has called you to a career in writing, be prepared to continually give up some things you might rather do—such as going to a movie, watching TV, or going to bed early from flat-out exhaustion—in order to write. If you have to walk away from your writing for a week because of work or family responsibilities, well, it’s tough, but that’s that. Don’t let it discourage you. What works for others—their schedules, their rituals—may not work for you. Follow good advice, discard the bad.

Most of all, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be a writer. Only God and your writing skills can determine that. A rule that can be followed only by those whose lives are far different from yours is worse than useless.

I’m writing this on a Sunday night, TV off, dogs finally settled. You see, I do write as often as possible, and I do give up a lot to do that. I just can’t do it every day. Maybe one day. I’ll publish my novel and make enough money to cut back on my copy editing. You know, work forty instead of sixty hours a week. And then I’ll have a schedule a little like Stephen King’s.



feelingyourpain said...

That's really nice. Very well written and thought-provoking, even though the "ever-shrinking number of years," although very true, is kind of depressing. Anyway, the site looks great. Why didn't you do it sooner?(!)

Andrea said...

I have joined to follow you here, on blogger and I am going to follow on fb, too. I look forward to getting to know you.


Anonymous said...

Nice! Thanks for the encouragement ... not just to write (which I rarely do creatively any more) ... but for all worthwhile pursuits. Damn the 'absolutes.' We cannot always do anything. ;) It's a little reminder that we're not God.
- @4Brian

Karin Kaufman said...

Anonymous: I'm glad you found my post encouraging. Encouragement was my main purpose, since rules and "absolutes" can be so discouraging, stopping us (as you said, in any worthwhile pursuit) before we even get started.

Candee Fick said...

In a "perfect" world I might actually have four to six hours a day to devote to my fledgling writing career. But my world isn't perfect. I've got three kids, a part-time job, health issues, and a load of other responsibilities and activities.

However, I do write something every day. The to-do list. My journal. Email. Blogs. Facebook. Legal research for my job. (And twice a week I block out time to hammer out a few pages on the WIP)

And I read something every day, too. My Bible. The newspaper headlines. Email. Blogs. Facebook. Novels. Writing craft books. But usually asbestos depositions. Blech.

Maybe the secret lies in taking the reading and writing that we already do and shifting it toward our goals. Personally, I think you're reading/writing 40 to 60 hours a week already.

Karin Kaufman said...

Candee, I like your way of looking at the problem. I do write business emails and cover letters for projects (and both are real compositions since I have to be very careful with my wording), and my editing is both reading and writing.

I hadn't thought about the other reading and writing I do--some of the same things you've mentioned--as working toward my goals, but I suppose they are. Or they could be. Like an asbestos deposition could work its way into one of your WIPs one day.

It can be frustrating to put in so many hours doing anything but working on my own WIP, but it helps to think that those hours don't have to be wasted.

Amy said...

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly with what you say. And I adore King's "On Writing"--so glad you've read it!

Karin Kaufman said...

Amy, I've read "On Writing" twice, and I didn't want to leave the impression in my post that I don't like it--I do! I've have just that one pesky problem with it. Glad you like King's book too. Maybe it's time to read it again...

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