Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ is a fabulous no-nonsense practical approach to being a writer and one that anyone serious about writing should own (in my humble opinion). From a previous reading I recalled that King said that he wrote everyday including Christmas Day and his birthday. On re-reading I see that he says that he told interviewers that because, when you are being interviewed you have to say something…However the nuanced truth is more interesting. When he’s really into a project, he DOES write everyday (including Christmas and his birthday). On the other hand, he says when he is not writing, he completely comes away from it and does plenty other things instead.
When we want to call ourselves writers, when we come to a point when writing is almost as vital to us as breathing, we can begin to eat, drink and sleep writing. We ponder plots and subplots, fret about wordcount, viewpoint, characterization. Sometimes we go to our writing day after day like inmates of an institution who don’t realise that they are free at any time to leave. During National Novel Writing Month in November, thousands of writers pledge to write 50,000 words. Why? friends sometimes ask Is there a prize? Is it a competition? No, we just do it, for ourselves. But producing the necessary 1667 words a day is a baptism of fire and there are days when you want to beat your head against the table and shout ‘No, no, no!’ You feel literally burned out. And the reason is that you are sapping every inch of your available subconscious and leaving no subconscious soup to bubble and brew and produce new rich and substantial ideas.
I’ve written before about the absolutely vital part of creativity called incubation (the psychological process whereby disjointed ideas stew and associate in new and startling ways). It famously worked in the bath for Archimedes and – as I’ve discovered this morning – for the inventor of the ATM (who unfortunately forgot to patent the idea.) At the moment I am itching to write a short story, I just love the form so much. I have plenty of ideas jotted down, some character development done, some paragraphs written but nothing, at the moment is jumping out at me. As indeed Stephen King puts it ‘good short story ideas come quite literally from no-where, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun’. So my short stories ideas are reasonable but there is no spark to set them alight, align them in a unique and exciting way. All it will take is a moment, a chance remark, something seen on television (Gah!) or by listening to a song or reading something in the newspaper to make the difference. But that cannot always be planned and sometimes you have to work through the piece in the absense of inspiration hoping that the next time you come to it you will see it with a fresh eye.
Being committed we will write as much as we can, even when life is busy and emotionally demanding, even when we are sucked from all sides. ‘Sometimes, as King says ‘you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you are doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position‘. We need to be committed and ready to feel the fear that our work is going no-where and go there anyway. However we also need to be aware of finding a balance between word production, following through and giving ourselves the mental space to find new inspiration and drive.
Do you write everyday? Through difficult times or holidays? Or do you give yourself a day off every week? Or a break at the end of a project? What works for you? Would love to hear your comments.