Friday, October 14, 2016

All You Have to Do Is Write Two Pages a Day...

But it sounded so good. I believe it was Stephan King who first offered this cruel advice, but I passed it along just like a lot of other writing coaches. Write two pages a day, we said, confidently, smugly, and in one year you will have a book. Yes, it’s true, if you write two pages a day every day for a year you’ll have 700 pages of written material.

But you’re not going to have a book. Even if you could actually do this, I contend you wouldn’t even have a workable draft to rewrite.

Of all the problems I see my writer friends facing, finding the time to work is the most intractable, heartbreaking, guilt-inducing difficulty they face. My first advice (actually, my first advice is to not start in the first place, so this is my second advice) is to find a girlfriend, boyfriend, partner who has a good job or is wealthy and who is ok with you taking time to simply write. Unfortunately, finding this person is not easy. Neither is hacking out time to write from a regular life – having a job or a family. So then along comes King who says it’s not that difficult to find enough time to write two pages a day, and he’s right. That’s about 500 words if you double space it, and you should double space it, not all that much when you sit down and do it. But…

Far more goes into writing a novel than just putting words on paper. Putting words on paper is typing. It’s finding the right words that is the difficult part. So much goes into constructing a novel beyond the writing: voice, structure, POV, plot, characterization to name just some of the more important aspects. All of these variables have to be thought through; connections have to be made. So when are you supposed to figure all of this out? When you’re writing your two pages a day? Yes, it’s possible, but then your two pages a day will be taking four or more hours a day, which blows apart the notion that an extra half an hour or even an hour stolen from some part of your normal life is going to put you on the path of a completed novel.

It takes me a year to write a novel. I work on it every day, all day. I do the physical, writing part for around four hours; rewriting may take up another couple of hours. The business part – dealing with publishing aspects, the Internet, goofing around when you should be working, etc. – takes another couple of hours. Now if you’re regular civilian -- meaning you have a normal job -- you put in your eight hours and then you’re done. (Yes, yes, I know, many people have far more demanding jobs that they work on for long hours.) But if you’re a writer working on a project as large as a novel, you’re still not finished when you get your eight hours in because the damn thing gets lodged in your head and your brain works on it while you’re doing everything else – living your life. When you’re eating, sleeping, driving, putting gas in your car, shopping, watching television, working out. When you’re conscious or unconscious.

Lawrence Kasden, the screenwriter, once said, “Writing is like having homework for the rest of your life.” He was correct. But it’s much worse than that. Writing is having an obsession for the rest of your life. How you deal with that obsession is the writer’s constant dilemma.

Oh look, I’ve finished my two pages. 550+ words. I guess I’m finished for the day.

Actually, I haven’t even started on my own work. Blogging is extra, something I have to fit in around and into my normal writing time.

So what’s the answer?

To be continued.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Moving Is Like Writing a Novel, Sort Of

They say moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, second only to the death of a loved one. I believe it. But it occurred to me recently as I was driving down I-95 for the fifth time, shuttling between suburban Maryland and my new hometown in North Carolina, trying to keep straight in my mind a list of things I had to remember to do while concentrating on not crashing my loaded car, that the mental contortions that I was going through were, or at least they felt so to me, just like those my brain undergoes when I am in the throes of writing a novel. In both instances there are just too many things one needs to remember, and not only remember but constantly keep in mind because one event almost always influences another.

Did I remember to have the utilities turned off? On? Has the realtor put in the closing extension paper? Did the termite guy turn in his report? Did the movers deliver the boxes? Did I remember to put in a scene in Chapter One about the restraining order, or did I just think that I should do it? Is there enough backstory about Maria? Does Trevor need a Dark Secret in his past? What the hell is going to happen in the end?

Look out! Jesus, where did that truck come from? Where am I? Richmond! I can’t be in Richmond already. Where the hell did the last 45 miles go?

I’m sure you’ve had the same experience: you’re alone in the car on a trip, you’re driving along and suddenly you notice you’ve been on autopilot for X number of dangerous miles. This lost time might have been spent in simple reverie, but in the two experiences I’m discussing here, Moving and Novel Writing, you can blame the intense mental work involved with each.

And that’s just the technical details, the lists of Things To Do. That’s to say nothing of the extreme pain that involves both. Most people have the experience of at least one big-time move in their lives. Say from a house of many years where you’ve raised a family and piled up all the crap that one collects and suddenly you have to figure out what to throw away and what to take with you. Same thing with a book. You’ve piled up many pages over the years it’s taken to produce a draft and suddenly you realize the damn thing needs to be drastically cut (every novel needs to be cut) so you agonize over what’s important – to you and to the book – and throw out what isn’t. So that’s what you’re doing hurtling south on I-95 at 75 miles an hour. Throwing things out, making lists, rearranging furniture and material.

Look out, world. There’s a guy on the highway with 14 boxes of books and other assorted crap in the back of his vehicle and he’s got a lot on his mind. Or maybe he’s a novelist and he’s blocking out a scene where the sailing ship has an encounter with a white whale. In either case, he’s dangerous. Trust me, I know. That guy is me.