Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Truth: Writers Don't Write

Via Wil Wheaton:

Ask a writer what she values most in her creative life, and she is likely to respond, "Time to write." Not many of us have the luxury of writing full- time; we have spouses, families, day jobs. To the people closest to the writer, "writing time" may seem like so much self-indulgence: Why should we get to sit around thinking all day? Normal people don't require hour after continuous hour of solitude and silence. Normal people can be flexible.

And yet, we writers tell our friends and children, there is nothing more sacrosanct, more vital to our intellectual and emotional well-being, than writing time. But we writers have a secret.

We don't spend much time writing."

In his article at the Los Angeles Times, J. Robert Lennon goes on to talk at some length about his writing routine, with great precision and great humor. His basic point is that it focused writing time rarely is, although any moment of any day can turn into a writing moment (hence those T-shirts that read "I'm blogging this"). I think most poets have the added complication that our "routines" are more likely to be crammed in among other priorities closer to the base of Maslow's hierarchy than poetry. I don't really have a routine - I'm more of a streak-writer* - but if I did, it would be close to this:
  • Complete the workday, begin drive home
  • Dictate ideas into recorder OR refine idea from previous session.
  • Get home, spend a couple hours with the family (dinner, homework, Disney Sorry)
  • (after lullabies) Turn on the Mets, begin transcribing recordings
  • move the laundry to the drier, reread last few transcriptions
  • Bring some Tostitos upstairs, extract something from the transcripts to work on
  • Iterate Mets - extraction loop until awakening to Twilight Zone reruns.

There are variants depending on whether I'm a submitting mode or a project/manuscript cycle, but this is the basic idea - writing time is after the "making a living" and blended with the "keeping the house". that's not a complaint, it's just an observation, and one which you'd think would make me want to focus more during the time I have available to write.

Operative phrase there is "want to". This post has so far taken me about 45 minutes to draft. Since I started, I looked up three games at BoardGame Geek, scanned the TV listings for M*A*S*H episodes, changed positions on the couch twice, located a journal I'm debating submitting to in Poet's Market, gotten a big glass of seltzer, and written these 331 words. Such is the life.

But in the end, I think adherence to a routine, or even having a routine, is less important than just committing to doing something with your writing every day. Just sorting my portfolio on the new computed had value, in that as I looked at each poem, I had a chance to decide if I still felt it was "done". That reminder of what was good in my own writing became a great filter for newer works in progress.

It's good to laugh at ourselves and the quirks of our "process". And essential to keep working while we laugh.

* - in the baseball sense, not the nude sense.

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