Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Being a Developing Writer: Write Every Day

“When I'm writing, I write every day. It's lovely when that's happening.” --Raymond Carver
All writers are developing writers, provided they approach their craft with sincerity. Invariably, a common mark among old masters is a searching quality to their work. They keep developing, even if only minutely. Art doesn't stand still. The exceptions to this are hacks, obviously, and workman like writers that churn out a new book (essentially the same book) about every year. Even very good writers can spin their wheels and produce middling works. That's not the problem. That's another issue. Leave it for now. The all important difference between the bad writing of a hack, and that of an otherwise good writer is that searching quality. You've got to want to be better.

So you've been doing this writing thing for a little while, or maybe you've just started, and it's fun, but it's also really challenging, it's frustrating, even when you write something and you feel a little bit good about it, you still have this sinking feeling that it's actually terrible, and when you read back over your work, other than the fact that you wrote it, it doesn't do much for you. You look around and all you see is fully stocked shelves of successful writers who are all better than you. You want to write as well as they do. What do you do?

You have to write every day.

This is important for two reasons. The first is focus. You have to consistently get into, not just a creative head space, but a learning one as well. You've got to start to figure out the whole writing storycraft thing, and that takes a lot of consistent effort. Otherwise its like trying to learn a foreign language by only studying flashcards occasionally. It won't work. You've got to soak yourself in your art. The second reason you have to write every day if you want to get better is because, as you probably already know, writing can tough emotionally, and so you have to make it a habit. You can't give your scumbag brain any room to distract you. There's no, “maybe I feel like writing today.” You're going to write today, so it doesn't matter how you feel about it. Shut up, and sit down. The nice thing about this approach is you'll start to feel better about your writing, because it stops being a task and starts just being a thing you do.

NaNoWriMo is great for this, but if you're serious about become a better writer, the push has to last more than a month. You can throw the whole word count quota out the window. What matters is that you're spending at least an hour every day trying to figure this thing out. If all you can spare some days is fifteen minutes, that's fine. Don't beat yourself up, just maintain the habit.

I was wrong about this at one point. I got complacent. I suppose I was burned out. At least I wasn't wrong by myself. I was standing at the edge of ECU's campus with a writer friend, Stephen Mason, after our fiction workshop had gotten out for the night. I had said I didn't write all the time, and didn't worry about it anymore either. I didn't feel like it was necessary. Stephen, the fool following the fool, agreed with me, telling me how he read Raymond Carver said he didn't write all the time either. Raymond Carver wrote when he felt like writing, and that worked just fine for him. It was at that moment that some fat, all-American youth, to whom a well meaning but utterly misled person had evidently tried to teach the use of a razor that morning, leaned his red face out of a passing truck window and yelled at us, enigmatically, “Hey, fagots,” and smiled.

I can't speak for Steve, but I know I'm still confused about what he wanted. Friendship I suppose. Our conversation broke up after that, and that's too bad, because if Steve and I had only not been interrupted by that baffling animal (no doubt lost and afraid himself, being so far from home), it might have occurred to one or the other of us that neither of us were Raymond Carver. We were still developing writers. Still are.  The best gains I've made during this process have always been when I'm writing all the time. And that's also when it's been the most fun.

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