My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Inspiration, That Sly Minx (Arielle K Harris)

This muse isn't telling you squat.
Image description: Muse sculpture
Inspiration, That Sly Minx
Arielle K Harris

Inspiration and a writer are in a dysfunctional relationship during the writing process.  It’s a one-sided affair, since the writer needs inspiration to write but the inspiration remains coldly unaffected by any begging on behalf of the writer asking please why doesn’t it just come here now and help me write this book, dammit.

But, like a shy lover, inspiration can’t be chased.  Instead the writer needs to bide their time, create around themselves the environment which inspiration is drawn to.  Casual negligence works best.  Being preoccupied with something menial but important, like doing the dishes or sleeping, is often when inspiration turns up unannounced, perfectly formed and enticing.  Perforce the writer has no choice but to drop everything at once, leave the half-washed dishes, or rouse themselves out of a warm almost-slumber to turn on the bedside lamp, and rush immediately to jot down the illicit murmurings which inspiration imparts or else risk losing those words to the obscurity of memory.

Inspiration, that sly minx, knows this well.  It will deliberately pick a moment when your hands aren’t free, or a night when you really need to sleep, and especially seek out a time when you don’t have any access to writing implements.  It appears in the breath of a single instant, imparts to you the much-sought secret to tying together all your disparate plot lines, or solving your character dilemma, or gives you the perfect opening scene to an entirely new book you have no time to write, and then whisks itself away again.  You try to repeat the words to yourself to remember them clearly, hastening your steps towards some form of writing or recording device, but with every new recitation you feel the words slipping.  Like a tea bag dipped too many times in hot water you lose your convictions with each reuse, the words lose their power and become insipid and tasteless.

So you start to carry around pens and notebooks wherever you go, or are technologically advanced enough to only require the use of the smartphone which is indelibly tethered to your existence already.  You leave these things within reach on your bedside table, and do the dishes with one eye always on the instruments of your craft, just in case.  Your friends and family are used to seeing you suddenly sit upright with no warning, dive into your pocket or handbag or man-purse and then furiously begin writing with a frown of wrathful concentration.  You’re determined to beat inspiration at its own game.

And so line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page you wrest the story from the grasping clutches of inspiration.  It wasn’t easy but you’re in an uneasy truce, and it’s playing along for once.  Maybe this relationship will work out for the best, you think.  Maybe my inspiration really does love me back.

Then inspiration visits you again, innocent as the blue sky, craftily sneaking into your mind while it relates to you that, sorry, you actually need to kill off your favorite character.  And it’s right, dammit, it’s so right.

This is why writers go mad and die young.

On the other hand, there are the days when you swear inspiration has left you for good.  You accept that your writing process will be a hard slog of one uninspired word after another while becoming increasingly convinced that the whole thing is a terrible waste of everyone’s time and an appalling degradation of the English language.  But you do it.  Day in and day out, you write those words, even ones that don’t entirely make sense, even ones that seem to confuse and obfuscate the point you swear you were trying to make.  You tear each word from your brain with effort, put it on the page however it best fits.  It’s painful in a soul-rending way, but easier to bear than the deep ache of disappointment you feel while staring at the empty expanse of white where your heart’s words are supposed to be.

Keep writing, writers.  Every day, inspiration or not, word-vomit or polished prose.  As we approach the commencement of this year’s NaNoWriMo I believe this message is even more important to hear.  Sometimes sheer bloody-mindedness and a refusal to accept defeat is the only way to write a book when every scrap of that shining, beautiful vision inspiration first let you glimpse vanishes from your mind’s eye.  Like a true relationship your writing process isn’t going to be all sunshine and roses and morning sex and surprise presents, you have to work past the hardships and put in the effort every day, even just trying is good enough, it shows you care.

At least until the book is done and you can ignore it for a while, or give it away to someone else to judge its worthiness for themselves, or just hide it in a drawer and move on to something new and exciting – that part is less like a relationship.  Or so I hope.

Arielle K Harris is the author of the novel Bestial as well as the ridiculous steampunk time travel drama short story The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When.  She is responsible for one very opinionated toddler as well as a writer, poet, falconer, knitter of many half-finished scarves, drinker of tea, enthusiast for wine and sometimes has been known to have wild birds in her spare room.

She can be found online at her own website: www.ariellekharris.com as well as on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ariellekharris/ and her published work can be found on Amazon here:https://www.amazon.com/author/ariellekharris

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Coughing Those Words Out (Personal Update)

Really Rough Draft  

Raw unfettered shit-  30,396 (Last week 24,262) [Just this week- 6134]  

Slightly polished turd- 18, 242 (Last week 12,402)  [Just this week- 5,840] 

*Reminder slightly polished turd is usually soft revision I've done to help jump start me into the next day's writing. It's no where close to a second draft, but it's a bit more polished than my raw copy. But a blank page is a hard start.

Personal Update


Yep. I've been prescribed liquids cough syrup and as much bedrest as I can get, but there's not much they can do except tell me to take it easy and hope that it doesn't develop into walking pneumonia. It hasn't kept me from crawling to the keyboard every day, but it's certainly cut into my word counts.

I also finally finished up a pair of very busy weeks. And I finally got a weekend to relax. Which I don't just need for my health, but actually because it's been too long. I need to start paring down my commitments to make more time for writing. (It's a good thing to be writing so much that one needs to find more time to do so.)

I've got more guest blogs this week than I can shake a cliche at, so I might run them on Tues AND Wed and try to catch up a bit from these last two weeks. So things are looking good even though I spent this morning coughing up a lung.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nanowrimo: The Good, The Bad, And the Very Very Ugly (Revision)

Should I participate in Nanowrimo?  

As with anything, your milage may vary.

Ah October.  The sweet smell of stockpiled peanut butter cups.  The crazy ass early Christmas season commercialism.  The warm afterglow of the all-state champion cheerleader orgy that marked my birthday.  And the beginning of the perennial Nano wars, where writers grab their "weapons" and spill endless ink and pixles in The Great Struggle(tm).

This is a writing blog, so naturally I have to weigh in on National Novel Writing Month and not a personal journal where I would reveal that the all-state champion cheerleader orgy this year bore a disappointing resemblance to cleaning linoleum on hands and knees for visiting family.  In fact, my all-state champion orgies have had, pretty much as far back as I can remember, a regrettable lack of existence.

Chris, as a writer, would you recommend I participate in Nanowrimo?

Can I please not answer this. It makes people I respect and love very angry.

Hey Chris, should I do Nanowrimo?

Please don't make me say my thoughts. They are complicated and nuanced, and the fans of Nanowrimo are......um.....not. At least not about Nano.

I have a question Chris. What do you think about Nano?

Please don't make me answer this. There's pluralism but folks won't get past that.

Chris, I'm a new writer, and I want to do Nano. What do you think.

Actually, I was specifically asked by someone about my thoughts on the matter, and I realized that I wasn't going to get out of answering forever. Maybe before tens of thousands of writers, all calling each other "novelists," gather online I might get through to one or two of them.  Because honestly, no one who is sold on Nano is going to take any advice not to do it...from anyone....ever.

But maybe--just maybe--I can at least help people who are still waffling make an informed decision. And maybe nuclear test monkey fighter pilots led by Matthew Broderick might fly out my butt. (Did I just make a 28 year old pop culture reference about a terrible movie? Oh yes.)

I have friends who do Nano, and sometimes we discuss its merits and flaws, and I always tell them the same thing, and with facial expressions and body language they get that this is a NUANCED position for me. Most of them are the kind of writers who can handle Nano.They are experienced writers and they understand how Nano fits into a broader mosaic of writing. They know what they're getting into, and they can handle themselves. They've been writing for years. But they are not the average example of one of the 200,000 writers who sign up (and the even more who write along side the official event).

Chris, should I participate in Nanowrimo?

Sigh. I'm not getting out of this one am I?

Should I participate in Nanowrimo?

Okay okay.

Look, if you have already done it and you know it works, you should do it. You should do things that you know work. If you have never done it before......especially if you are a new writer?

Yes yes, I know. That's not very nuanced of me.

I can see I'm not going to get through with just these answers, and it really is a little more complicated than just that, so let me go into more depth.  Besides, it's a good question that deserves a serious (if long) answer.

The Fucka Long Answer:

I don't hate Nanowrimo to the very core of its Novembery being or hear it spoken and experience a knee jerk urge to grab my chainsaw/shotgun gunblade thing and hunt the "novelist" who are super proud of their very very very rough draft.  Honestly, it's not all bad. I can't say that there aren't some writers who can do something wonderful with that extra kick in the ass that comes from a sense of camaraderie. I also can't say that I don't know dozens of writers who swear by it, a few I would call serious, and at least one professional--this is in addition to hundreds of published authors on record as publishing their Nano books (which you can see right on their website). However....

"The more serious and experienced a writer is, the more likely it is that they are going to treat Nano with caution."

Writing in Nanowrimo is an extraordinary task for which Hercules himself would pat you on the back and say "Dude!" in that way that conveys multiple levels of testosterone-brother admiration in just one syllable.  Diving into it unawares isn't much different than running a marathon without first training, and every year I see tens of thousands of people kick off on November 1st like they decided the New York Marathon was a brilliant first day on their fitness program because Couch to 5k is for fucking pussies and what could possibly go wrong?

And like jogging long distances, many athletes and especially long distance runners, would caution people from trying to suddenly run dozens of miles without first working up to it and/or understanding how a long distance run fits into any kind of work out routine or fitness program.

This analogy is particularly apt because running a marathon is a lot like writing 50,000 words in only thirty days--with a little more sweat and energy gels.  You can find people who do it.  Even people who poo-poo the idea that you shouldn't. They tell you they can "just do it" all up and down the internet. But then, you notice something as you shift to the opinions of people who KNOW what they're doing. Medical professionals warn against it, professional runners think it's really ill advised, and health and fitness sources list tons of bad things that can happen if you chose to ignore such advice.

Such advice is cheerfully ignored. And every year there are thousands of injuries because of it. And some of those injured never run again.

Just like running marathons with no training--just doing Nano without regular writing is a recipe for trouble. It's very difficult to actually pull off. It can cause (mental) injury. It can lead to a crushing sense of defeat. And what's worse, if you pull it off, you have to face a whole new set of challenges that are actually even more difficult.

But just because I don't think people should hop up and run marathons doesn't mean I'm against physical fitness.

Lemmie say that again because I've already started hearing from people who think my objection to Nano means I don't think they should even try--just because I don't think people should hop up and run marathons doesn't mean I'm against physical fitness.

I'm sure none of us will drop dead by the end of this.
Cause that never happens...right?
Already done Nano and love it? Enjoy.

Understand how speed drafts fit into the wide diaspora of writing process and you're okay with that? Enjoy.

Know that if you don't finish, you're still a writer? Enjoy.

However, even though I know Nano is a popular event among aspiring writers, I implore people who have never had any real experience writing a high word count every day not to participate or at least to lower the word count or in some other way practice self-care. I wish I could tell you they always listened. But we don't live in the magical sugar cane land of rainbow unicorn farts and candy corn mountains. Instead, Charlie gets his kidney cut out, and what I have is a collection of friends and acquaintances in various levels of existential crises about whether they're even really writers and how impossible writing can be. They burned out like shooting stars and slammed into the unforgiving wall of Nanowrimo.

Because of Nano, there are some people out there who AREN'T writers anymore.

In case that didn't land, let me say it again in bold:

Because of Nanowrimo, there are some people out there who AREN'T writers anymore. 

So when the argument rings kind of close to "it's better than not doing it," I have to be honest and say, "I'm not so sure about that."

I know a lot of writers--many are casual, amateur, unpaid, but are writers nonetheless. I know many professional writers and published authors. I know a couple of people you'd probably recognize if I tried to drop names (which I won't out of respect). The point is that--with unerring consistency (not universality, of course, but predictable consistency)--the more serious and professional and "real" a writer is about writing, the more predictably their opinion of Nanowrimo "red shifts" towards the negative or at least highly cautious. Obviously there are some starting writers who hate the idea of Nano, and there are some famous published authors who endorse it (even best sellers), but if you start lining everyone up, you notice that the pattern is pretty apparent.  The more serious and experienced a writer is, the more likely it is that they are not only going to think Nano isn't a good idea, but will even actually treat it with circumspection.  Even Stephen King--who has been called a billion nasty things, but never, EVER "too slow"--suggests taking three months to draft a novel.

If you want to do anything in a way that will make you hate it, try overdoing it all at once.  It works for ice cream, learning piano, exercise, and--surprisingly enough-- writing too.

You can even see this yourself if you're curious and/or don't want to take my word for it.  Google "Nanowrimo" and just start reading links. Most fans acknowledge the "bad points." Most naysayers acknowledge the benefits. Everyone seems to have a pretty good inventory of the pro/con report in their head; it's just a matter of which side of the scales they emphasize. Around page four or five, you'll notice that the content starts to shift from constant praise to the occasional criticism and then to the constant criticism. You will ALSO notice that--IN GENERAL--the quality of the writing goes up remarkably the more critical the writer is.

Why do so many good and experienced writers slam Nano? Why do so few like it. Maybe it has to do with a "culture" that the Nano event has created and what comes out of that culture. Maybe it has to do with how unbalanced the final cost/benefit analysis can be. Maybe those who've been doing this for decades have a few nuggets of wisdom that drop from their mouths during their gum-toothed rants about the good old days.

Maybe, and I know this often hurts young writers because they always think they're the exception to good advice (be it read prolifically, write daily, or kill your darlings), but maybe they know what they're talking about.

The Good--And For Fuck's Sake, YES, There is Good!!!

Nanowrimo has legions of fans.  (Some of them are quite rabid, and will be hunting me down for writing this. Fortunately the Writing About Writing compound has lots of secret passages and a hidden concrete bunker.) You will be in good company. You will have cheerleaders. (But not the hawt threesome kind, sadly.) You will have motivational speeches and articles. You will have your very own Rob Schneider saying "You can do it!" (And with where his career's been lately, you might even get the actual Rob Schneider. If ever there was a moment to sit down and hammer out that novel that's been percolating in your head, this is arguably one of the better moments to begin.  This is half the impetus for getting MFA's and joining writing groups--to have encouragement.

Nano is a great time to establish good habits of daily writing.  If you have to establish that habit to come to the page even when you don't want to, what a better time than when there are thousands of people around you chanting "Write...write...write..."?  Writing takes a sincere and dedicated daily effort.  Writing 50,000 words breaks down to 1667 words every day. You could absolutely do worse than to sit down every day for a month and try to write like that. You might even discover what just about every writer will tell you about the magic that happens when you write at the same time every day. Even if you can't maintain this breakneck pace, just writing every day is a wonderful habit to establish, and given the encouragement of this particular month, it might be a great time to start.

Nanowrimo gets people writing.  The world over, folks who have never written more than a dreadfully long paper in college about the political science of cellular mitosis, or something, suddenly come to the page. Getting people writing is a good thing. They learn how much catharsis and pleasure there is in the simple act of both writing and creation in general. Writing is a lost art, and writing well is under-appreciated. For every book published, there are hundreds who think doing so is no big deal, and this is the chance for them to put their money where their mouth is and find out that it's really a tremendous amount of effort. If nothing else, they will emerge with a newfound respect for those who do go through the full process.

It's about the writing.  Even though nearly 20% finish Nano, of the 200,000 or so who start, only a couple of hundred ever lead to a published book.  (And even fewer to a published book that isn't self-published a bit hastily.)  You do the math.  If this were purely a matter of chance, you would have a 1 in 10,000 chance of EVER getting a book deal.  And it's not pure chance; most people who publish a Nano book are very experienced writers and usually already published going in.  Would you put in an entire month of hard effort on any chance so low?  Of course not.  And despite pleasant delsutory fantasies of instant success, at some level many writers in Nano seem to know this.  So very quickly Nano becomes  ONLY about the writing. Writing is the meaningful part of the art of writing.  Not publication.  Not readings.  Not book signings.  Not fame.  Not fortune.  Not blistering hot groupie threesomes. Just the writing. It's nice to have an event that focuses on that part.

Some people find it amazingly useful with their writing process.  Remember, in writing you do whatever works. For some people--not many but some--the process of sitting down one month to crank out a draft works very well.  They may do daily writing, but when it comes to some of their longer creative efforts, they are wired for the power sprint.  So the structure of Nano really suits them.  At a certain point, all advice must be tossed out in favor of what works, and if Nano truly works for a writer, it works.  Period.  End of discussion.

No seriously.  End of discussion.  You can go to the next point.

Nanowrimo gives people permission to write absolute crap.  If there's one thing Nano excels at it's the production of crap. Even other crap looks at Nano crap and thinks "Well, I'm not that bad." Nano drafts are like your steaming pile of first draft shit took its OWN steaming pile of first draft shit, and then smeared itself across a hundred or so pages and became your "novel."  First drafts suck. They ALL do. Please don't feel like this is particularly mean criticism of yours and how can I say that when I've neverevenreaditohmygod!  Mine suck too. First drafts that people took some time writing even suck, so Nano are kind of extra sucky.

But that's what's GREAT about it!!!!

So many writers have this terrible habit where they sit in front of the blank page paralyzed with fear that they have to write something good. An event dedicated to the permission to write total crap can actually help those writers just move past that expectation.  "Just keep writing" is the basically the mantra of the first draft, so anything that gets people realizing that they aren't going to be pumping out Shakespeare--or even Lustbader--with a first draft is probably a good thing.

Yes I've done it.  I've "won" Nano five times (every time I attempted). I do see the benefit. There are many other articles here about the good aspects and even some advice. I will probably do it again this year in form--though my novel is already started, and it won't be done by Nov 30. If the "evil Chris" who lives in the basement is too difficult a metaphor, yes, I do have conflicted feelings about Nano, and that means that some of them are good.

I do get that it has some wonderful qualities. I just also see the fallout when people can't or don't understand how uberfast drafting fits into a bigger picture or what happens to their self esteem when they fail or their motivation when they overdo it. Strictly speaking, as advice to starting writers, I would caution against it. More experienced writers know what they're about.

The Bad

It's only one month.  You can't really improve at something that takes regular, dedicated effort by doing obsessively for 1/12 of the year. You wouldn't only work out for one month a year and expect to stay in shape. You wouldn't only sculpt for one month and expect to be a sculptor. You wouldn't only take pictures for one month and expect to be a photographer. You can't only write for one month and expect to be a writer.

The take home message here is NOT "don't bother," by the way.

It's "keep going."

KEEP GOING! (Even after Nano)

It's November.  I don't know who picked November, but they MUST have a sadistic streak. It was probably the same person who thinks that "NaNoWriMo" is a fucka creative name for the event and not just one more tragically horrific decision. November is a month for swallowing your hatred of family, cooking eighty course meals that no one will ever compliment, restraining the urge to kill people who start playing Winter Wonderland, and dodging the winding lines of more-white-people-than-normal at Starbucks. To add writing a novel to everything else that goes on in November is criminal.

People think they're done on Nov 30th.  Nano's official organizers and most of its strident apologists seem to be aware of the fact that a draft hammered out in 30 pulse pounding days isn't really a novel (though they have no qualms calling those who finish "novelists.") They acknowledge that it still needs work: more drafts, revision, an army of monkeyspank pedants combing it for its every grammatical error--but not before MOAR DRAFTS!!! But the culture of Nano does not seem to know this.  And of the 40,000 or so "winners" of Nano, 37,328 of them will treat their draft like it's a finished manuscript and not the literary equivalent of a doodle.  It's not "the official party line." It's how the Nanolings are actually acting. It's like the Christians who say they love Christ's teachings but then want the death penalty and think poor people need to stop being lazy.

People think they've written a novel.  50,000 words is not really a novel. The Catcher In the Rye is one of the shortest books you're likely to ever read and that is 73,404 words  (Nearly 50% more than Nano output.)  It's a little over 100 pages in most printings. Any shorter than that, and they call it a novella and don't publish it--not until/unless you are one of the best selling authors of all time. It's nothing personal; novellas are a tough sell financially--they take up WAY too much space in an anthology and sell poorly on their own because people judge value by size.

Modern adult novels are usually more like 100,000-250,000 words (which is roughly between 200 and 800 pages) Y.A. fiction notwithstanding.  Longer and they break it up or pare it down.  But the trend of novels in the last 60 years (since Holden Caulfield was losing his foils and his mind) has been books getting longer and longer. Today's audiences want to get lost in their escapism, so while there are a few novels these days closer to 100,000 and 200 pages, and even a few that are still as short as Catcher, industry trends tend towards bigger being better.  50,000 words is basically a novella--especially by modern standards--but they don't call it National Novella Writing Month, do they?  No they don't.

So...is a 50,000-word, extremely-rough draft actually a novel?  Are these people novelists?

50,000 words is absolutely arbitrary.  Putting your idea into a 50,000 word container is completely arbitrary. Your idea might be a ten page short story or it might be a trilogy. Trying to fit it into 50,000 words so that you can participate in some national event is a terrible injustice to your creative vision. Why not make all songs exactly five minutes long. Oh sure, Elvis's "Party" is going to have some filler and "American Pie" might need to be done in allegro, but "those are the RULES!" Make your story how long your story needs to be. Forget the official line.

Speaking of questionable rules, they have a lot of them!  For a completely arbitrary event, in a completely arbitrary month, with a completely arbitrary goal, they sure do have a lot of rules. Then again, maybe they're just continuing the "arbitrary" motif with some fucking arbitrary RULES. Start fresh. Don't write non-fiction. If the whole point is going to be "just write," why bother with a bunch of rules that discourage all kinds of "just" writing? Why not keep going on the novel you're already writing and just try to do 50,000 words of it during November? Or write a few short stories? Or write on non fiction? Or write a poem a day. Well because those are the rules.  If they're wondering why writers are not "grokking" the little disclaimers about Nano not being the end all of writing, it might be because right when "Do whatever works" would fit into their ideology perfectly, they go and lay down a bunch of conditions.

You shouldn't need it.  If you need Nano to write 50,000 words, you should be focused on writing outside of NaNo. It's the same reason you don't need an MFA to give you permission to write. Writing is a solitary activity. At the end of the day, the only person who can cheer you forth and kick your ass is you. You really have to learn to find this motivation from within. In the final analysis, it's always just you and the page. If you can't write a chunk every day without some national event spurring you forth, then that event is just an affectation that you've fetishized and what you really need to be working on is cultivating your own discipline and motivation.  And there are books that can help you do just that.

It's not that the event isn't good and the ass kicking that works isn't good. It's just that eventually even Dumbo had to learn he could fly withOUT the feather.

The structure and culture of Nano undermines the need for sustained effort.  Nano creates a culture for writers–whether it intends to or not and whether it (quietly and grudgingly) acknowledges its place in a larger mosaic of writing or not. No one thinks running one marathon a year (and doing nothing else by way of training) would be smart or help improve anyone's running performance or fitness because any marathon information will underscore the need for pre-event training, general health and fitness, and a sustained engagement over one's career. Any specific event will caution runners to be prepared, and any fitness information will include the fact that you have to keep at it as a lifestyle to get a real benefit.  With Nano, these ideas are an afterthought. They are a disclaimer at the bottom of the page in the fine print. "Oh yes, by the way, you should probably keep writing even after Dec 1st if you're serious about this whole writing thing voidwhereprohibitedmaycausenightsweatsandanalseepagekthnxbai."

It emphasizes one part of the process--word count--over everything else.  Word count is king in Nano. It's emperor. It's supreme commander. All else is an afterthought including quality, revision, research, and even reading, which are major parts of writing. It's no wonder that everyone happily applies the sobriquet of "novelist" after they have produced 50,000 words of excreta. Go back to those same forums on Dec 1st, and you will see oceans of folks talking about "cleaning up and submitting" their novels, switching off readers to get them ready for publication, looking for editors, and how they're starting a new novel right away. They haven't learned how drafts fit into the process.

And it can actually be harmful for writers not to understand all this.

The creative process isn't ever so clean.  Ask any writer if their process is as smooth as 1667 words per day, and you will get a lot of laughter. Even people who do have word or page counts for their daily output know that their creative process is going to come in like a puppy through your roomful of carefully laid out index cards. Sometimes you delete your last ten pages because not even you know where the fuck you've wandered off to. Sometimes you get a lightning flash for a totally different project that you have to take some notes on so you can come back to it later and that sucks up most of your day.  Sometimes you catch a wave of inspiration like a surfer catching a tube, and you grab the nearest thing with caffeine in it, stay up all night clacking away, and have 10,000 words in front of you when you stumble to bed at seven the next morning.  That's just how this shit sometimes works.  Sitting down at the same time can help you with your creativity, but once the juice is loose, you have to be willing to let your muse lead in the dance.

80-85% failure rate.  Nano gets really excited about its success rate. The "unprecedented" numbers of "winners" most years fall between 15 and 20%. Awesome right? That's like almost a fifth! Let's turn that around. 4/5's of people are NOT finishing. If four fifths of people weren't finishing a marathon, would they call it a great success? It might actually be a little closer to the first three or four episodes of a season of American Idol. This is 160,000 people every year. And my heart just breaks for them.

And that's what leads to the really really ugly...

The Really, Really Ugly

It burns out genuine creativity.  If you want to do anything in a way that will make you hate it, try overdoing it all at once. It works for ice cream, learning piano, exercise, and--surprisingly enough-- writing too.  And just like people who make a New Years resolution and spend 6 hours at the gym on January 2nd and get lactic acidosis, the whole activity is sullied. Thousands--perhaps tens of thousands--of writers walk away from Nano with a strong distaste for writing in their mouths. They think it has to hurt. They think they don't have what it takes. They think they're doing it wrong if it doesn't eclipse their life and sap their will to live. They see it as a chore. It is a daunting word count that takes hours to meet, and it can bleed all the joy out of writing. And yes, as a "real" writer you have to write when it hurts, write when it's a chore, and keep at it when it isn't fun, but there's doing it and there's overdoing it. You go to the gym for an hour even when you don't want to, not for four hours of lifting more weight than you can handle. When you force yourself to do some writing--any writing--in a given day, you can do a couple of pages of free writing as long as you keep with it, not six and a half (double spaced) pages that HAVE to be part of an ongoing plot, which you might not even like anymore or may technically have finished 10 pages ago and now you're just doing jazz hands to hit the word count.

It makes writing suck.

Nanowrimo culture seems to make its goal trying to irritate working novelists.  The official site has been changed, and maybe the culture will follow but there used to actually be considerable  CONTEMPT for working writers and the full-fledged writing process. This year phrases like like " don't be one of those writers who obsess over quality" and "be able to say 'oh, I've written three'" are finally off the official description. And it was a few years back they took out the bit about "mock real novelists who dawdle." (Yes, that really used to be there.) Is it any wonder that actual novelists don't have the highest regard of an event that produces (at best) the first, really-rough, super-shitty draft of a NOVELLA and then prances about with it and demands the same accolades from the world as those who have spent their lives doing things like "obsess[ing] over quality." These people aren't novelists anymore than someone who runs 20 miles once is a marathoner.

It instills a sense of failure.  Much like those who finish a marathon have almost always trained in distance running, almost everyone who finishes Nano has some experience in writing daily. Those who don't, usually don't finish. They have NO IDEA what they're getting into and how quickly three or four hours a day can impact a regular life (no matter how doable it looks on paper). And then they end up in this weird situation where they think they've failed as a writer or aren't really writers. They think because they couldn't keep up with the absolutely batshit pace of 50,000 words a month that they don't deserve to be writers.  I am absolutely comfortable calling myself a writer, and I might write 3/5s that in a good month (even with word dumps like this article).

Worse, if they finish, they then hit the cold reality of what they actually have: a month's worth of freewriting that isn't even at the quality of most first drafts. They not only won't get published but they won't get published after a "clean up" and they won't get published after "some polish and a professional edit." They might might might might MIGHT get published after two complete rewrites, and three or four more drafts on top of that. And if a writer doesn't understand what the problem is here--that they need to writing second and third drafts before revising--they may think that they're just not cut out for writing.

You're going to get hate mail, terrible criticism, and rejection as a writer (including people on social media who will trash you without even reading anything but your articles' titles) but there's no sense taking part in a whole event set up pretty much specifically to INDUCE a soul crushing sense of failure on four out of every five who take part--at least all the ones that don't really understand how robust the writing process is and how much they haven't failed.

Let me say that again: "They HAVEN'T failed."

They HAVEN'T failed.

Publishers are reacting to Nano...badly.  If you read the submission guidelines for major publishers, and even several small presses, they have begun to mention Nano submissions by name. And what they say is: "Don't send us that crap."  I can even tell you unofficially (shhhh) that there are a couple of major houses in the big five that usually take a small number of unsolicited manuscripts, but they won't even LOOK at anything that isn't from a previously published author during the months of Dec-March. I know agents who won't read submissions during winter and several more who strongly advise their clients to wait until closer to summer to start shopping for publishers EVEN WITH SOLICITED MATERIAL. It's that bad. The deluge of shitty books that come out of Nano is affecting the industry. They look nervously at the calendar like Eddard Stark and say "Winter is coming!" in that meaningful voice. Nano might mention that "you're not done on Dec 1st" but the writers aren't listening. Enough writers aren't listening that the industry itself is starting to CRINGE at the arrival of winter. Maybe Nano might want to switch to 14 point font for that disclaimer or something.

Sean Bean stars in a new series about a publisher who walks to work on Dec 1st.

People are making money off of wannabes.  The Nano org itself is a non profit and participating is free, but look around. You will see a lot of opportunities to spend your money. I'm not just talking about thermoses and sweatshirts either (though you can get those too). There are novel writing kits, manuscript helpers, tools, a camp, and all kinds of things you might think will help when you realize that 1667 words a day is actually kind of hard. It doesn't take much to be the writing equivalent of that person who buys a track suit, designer jogging shoes, a fanny pack, a hydration hat, an ipod armband holder, and six "workout albums" and then goes jogging twice.
Wow, this is actually hard!  Time to buy a guitar.

But it gets even worse than that. Dec 1st, the predators come out to play. They promise the moon, and tell you that your steaming pile of fast-as-you-can excrement has a lot of promise. ("Oh it's good...it just needs a few suggestions and some editing. I can do that for $3/page." or "Hey, this is good.  The publishers might not take a chance on it, but if you self publish, it will sell." Only $500 for a startup package.) When what they really should be saying is "Go write the whole thing again, and then treat that like it's your first draft. We'll talk when you're on draft two or three." These folks are the scum of the earth, preying on people's desire to BE writers and sucking off their hard earned money by pretending that these manuscripts don't need anything more than a copy edit to knock the socks off a publisher. They aren't much different than those "acting academies" that convince thousands of wannabe actors every year that they really have "the face for the camera" and all they need to make it is a few lessons on lingo and some head shots. They scam people by playing on their ego that their writing is brilliant.  And Nano has drawn the scammable like moths to a flame.

And non-profit doesn't mean no one draws a salary. Let's just say that.

~Neo Voice~  "Disclaimers.  Lots of Disclaimers."

Here's the bottom line: you would do better--much better--to pick a more reasonable and maintainable word count and do that every day, even after November is over.

Ultimately the problem with Nanowrimo isn't an ideological disagreement with its good parts.  The good parts are good!  There's a whole section of them!  (Seriously, just scroll up to remind yourself.) But its fans and the culture of the event smooths over the hugeocity of the faults. If you told me all the good parts of ANYTHING, and conveniently left out the bad parts (or just blew them off with a shrug), you could make it sound good.

That's basically what politicians do.

But understand, the difference between saying: "I don't enjoy relaxing in my car listening to music or talking for hours," and the phrase: "I hate being stuck in traffic jams."  And I'm not saying I don't want my financial paperwork to be in order if I say: "Audits suck."  And just because I like meeting new people doesn't mean I think Alzheimers will be awesome. Context. Context. Context.

You can't just casually acknowledge the downside of Nano with a dismissive wave.  ("Oh SURE you have to revise. Duh.")  It's like casually acknowledging the downside of herpes.

Hey, Simplex 2 has been known to increase people's sex drive to help propagate itself.
You like sex, don't ya??
Okay, that one was way over the line.

Nano gets people writing. Many have written a book that they wouldn't have otherwise. It gives people the push they need. Writers who knows what they're getting into and know that they don't have a "novel" when they're done handle it just fine. And anyone who finishes a 50k word manuscript should be proud and will probably be high on the act of creation for a long time to come. It's a great time of encouragement.

But what happens when this stuff falls apart? The problem is this positive fanaticism exists in a contextual vacuum, blind to the faults that too many of its fans would have you ignore. Like religion, Nano has entered the part of the brain in its fans where the slightest criticism is tantamount to blasphemy. No one can be cautioned--even by those who've seen a couple dozen writers give up on writing because of what diving into Nano did to them.

If there were five or six NanoRevisionMos and three NanoPracticeMos and a NanoEditMo, and September as NaNoPlanMo then they'd be more realistic.  If people knew that writing (maybe just not quite 1667 words) was something most writers do every day of every month, and not just in November, that it's destructive to the craft to value word count over every other aspect of the process, and that you need to wake up on December 1st and keep right on going...  If the "pep talks" one could find online were not mostly dedicated to "keep going" and more (perhaps most) of them were about how failure is really not a reflection on anyone's ability to write...  If they acknowledged that the exercise of Nano was in and of itself pretty arbitrary and silly to begin with....  If people treated Nano like it were one spoke on a very large wheel instead of the One True Way™....  And if folks weren't making money on the dreams of people who want to be writers instead of just telling them to get their asses in the chair and keep going....  I might not warn people off of it for the sake of their desire to write.

Experienced writers aren't saying "don't bother."  They're saying "there is probably a better way to go about doing what it seems like you want to do. I know that way. I will tell you. All you have to do is listen."

What happens next is that the inexperienced writer acts like William Wallace when he finds out Robert The Bruce betrayed him at Falkirk. "How could you harsh my squee. You....MONSTER!! My sandcastle!  Thou hast SHAT in it"

I don't want to see people NOT write. I want to see them keep going. I want to see them get better. I want to see that novel not just gather dust at the back of some drawer and never gain them anything more than the bragging rights to say they wrote it. I want to see them have the same faith in their ability to sustain that effort, revise, and become better writers that they did in their ability to hit word counts. I want to see their self esteem grow to other parts of the writing process. I want to see them learn that other aspects of writing are just as awesome as that feeling of finishing something monumental. Maybe that means not biting off more than they can chew or burning themselves out, or maybe it just means on December 1st they keep right on going. That's what I want.

The world needs your novel. Not your novel's proto-first draft. Or worse, a chunk of it that you now tie to your failure as a writer.

But I'm sure that despite the fact that my worst objection is what the event can do psychically to writer and their creativity that I can look forward to having fans, who want Nano to be awesome despite all evidence to the contrary, to hire ninjas to kill me.  My words are high treason in the cult of Nano.

But hopefully if I haven't talked anyone out of it, at least they might go into the bad and the really really ugly with their eyes open, not hate themselves or quit if they fail, keep going after its over, and for god's sake don't let anyone scam them out of their hard earned money.

The Hella Trite Recap

And if my nuanced answer with all its disclaimers and begrudging acknowledgements is way TL:DR for you, just remember (if you're not already writing every day, haven't done it before, and are just getting started as a writer) the Darth Vader answer to "Should I do NaNoWriMo?"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why are you so anal about daily writing? (Mailbox.)

Image description: Calendar with "Write" written in on every day.
Why are you so anal about telling people they should be writing every day?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I don't often redo questions once they're in the FAQ, but this one goes well with yesterday's post.]  

I'm taking a slowball over the plate today since yesterday's article took about three days to write. This came in in response to the article last night.

Mark asks:

Why are you so anal about telling people to write every day?

My reply:

It's really simple actually:

1- I'm not. I actually want you to write exactly as much as you want to write to lead a happy and fulfilling life with some creative expression folded in. If you are happy with how much you write, that is the correct amount. It's just great advice if you're unhappy because you're not as successful as you want to be.

2- I'm not. What I'm actually telling people isn't what they OUGHT to do or what the writer police mandate to give out their validation stickers for who is real. What I am telling them how a gazillion writers before them have said improves by leaps and bounds the abilities of writers to wordsmith their craft, cultivates discipline, creativity, and a body of works from which one can find that "success" they want so badly. And will push most people towards their goal of publication, financial solvency through writing, or a guest spot on The Today Show. It's just great advice for those folks.

3- I'm not.  Sometimes I even make whole listicles about how NOT to write every day. It's just great advice if you want to make mad ciznash and be a bestselling author.

4- I'm not. Actually, I've got an FAQ about this, and you should read it. It's just great advice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Privilege of Daily Writing (And the Ableism of Prescribing It) Part 3

Image description:
Blue sign with a writing hand that says
"Keep Calm and Write On"
Return to part 2 

All the way back to part 1

(I'm jumping right in without recap from part 2)

So back to our two young hopefuls: Assuming Bolt and YoYo Ma. are generous people they would likely have very different answers once they knew that simply practicing every day might be impossible. And most writers are probably kind and generous and would give different advice as well to folks who couldn't write daily (rather than simply didn't want to).

Of course some will continue to be jerkwad dill holes. Maybe they just can't get out of that bitterly cynical context I talked about in part one (where there is an unending deluge of people who WANT TO BE WRITERS but hate the advice that doing so might involve writing or the shocking revelation that making a career out of something might involve treating it like a career). Maybe they just have critical empathy failure. Maybe they just have too damned much dill in their holes. Regardless, they will ignore that not all lives are as untrammeled as their own and come with enough time to eke a half an hour out of them here or there. They will ignore that not all brains function with the same alacrity or clarity or that not all emotional realities create enough room for writing. Or that not all chronic illness require medications that do not leave one fuzzy headed. They will say shit like "If you really wanted it..." or "This is not that hard...." or the fourteenth place runner up for shittiest thing ever said by a human to another human, ever: "It's all in your head; you're just making excuses."

Before we get to the advice often given when writing every day isn't an option, let me make a few disclaimers:

We aspiring writers turn to those who have achieved what we want because they've walked the path ahead of us. They can tell us what to expect in terms of effort, give us tips on process, maybe help us with our craft, and they can likely point out a few dangers to avoid. And even though they may have some ideas for how to maneuver their path around obstacles they themselves never encountered, there is ever the danger of people with privilege lecturing those without on what they "ought to do." So take anything they (or I) say with a grain of salt or two (or three).  Seeing the world through a privileged lens means that the best we can do is listen, have empathy, and imagine, but sometimes privilege creates an inability to really register things as obstacles because they never have been.

Remember that we're talking about a general inability to write daily. But really each particular flavor of that obstacle is going to be a little different. Getting general advice about how to work around not writing every day from someone who has overcome debilitating ADD might be generally useful, but not specifically helpful to someone who has bipolar disorder, for example, and is barely able to get out of bed when depressed. So take this advice with a few more grains of salt than before. You might want to find other writers struggling with the same circumstances.

And as always and ever, do what works. If I tell you that you should write every day it's not because I like pissing 70-80% of you off. It's because a gazillion successful writers told me that writing every day works and yes so did dozens of my friends and hundreds of my readers who gave it a shot and sent me testimonials. Oh and also me. And those writers who say it's no big deal? They don't seem to have those shiny career paths that make us wanna-be writers drool. But maybe (and this would be rare, but maybe) it just isn't how your brain rolls. Or you can't write every day, but you've worked out a magnificent checklist system for writing for twenty hours a week. And then you have to do what works, and just hammer it out on your own.

You have to have a shocking amount of self honesty if you want to have a writing career. ("Yes, I'm making excuses. No that writing is not that good. Yes, I need an editor. Yes, actually writing every day helps and I'm saying I have a special snowflake creativity because I don't want to do the work.") It's no one's fucking business to judge you, but a lot of people have died without ever finishing that book they wanted to publish. And a lot of them lied their way to the grave telling themselves they were the exception to ubiquitous writing advice like "Read a lot" or "Write every day." They were the exception...until one day they weren't.

However, there is an interesting opportunity for people who can't write every day. It's technically available to those who can, but we are less likely to avail ourselves of it. When you're a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And when you have time and a cooperative brain, every writing malfunction can feel like you need to just throw more and more and more time and practice at it. Not getting published? Let's write another ten hours a week. Work not coming together. Two more hours each morning.

It's not that this approach is wrong (the way to get better at writing IS to write), but sometimes it can drift into the realm of working harder and not smarter. A lot of writers write a LOT, but don't take very much care to be deliberate and thoughtful about how they write. They just sort of power through it like every problem can be solved with a "lot" more hours. There's a certain elegance and purpose that a writer can bring to their productive moments when they don't necessarily have the luxury of powering through with brute writing muscle.

A dozen ways to help you not write every day (if that's your jam):
 (Note: I'll probably publish a slightly altered version of this listicle by itself some day when I'm too busy to write up a brand new post–in other words very very soon.)

1- Remember that you don't have to write.

You really don't have to write. Really. You don't have to write at all. But even if you do write, you don't have to have the dysfunctional relationship that most of your author heroes have with writing where their work-life balance is kind of fucked up and they're sort of addicts whose drug of choice is words. You don't have to do it if you don't like it that much–even if you are good at it. You don't have to write more often than you enjoy writing. You don't have to do it in a way that's dedicated to improving and output and feels a lot like work. You can even do it simply for your own enjoyment, and never mess around with the soul crushing work of trying to make money. And if you do make money, it can be a sideline gig–not necessarily something you have to do for fifty hours a week trying to scrape together enough audience that some day you might not need that day job as well.

Step one: denial.
Step two: ?????
Step three: Profit.
Image description: Coffee mug with text "I'm not addicted
to writing. We are just in a very committed relationship
You decide your own level of committment.

If you want to torch your social life, live like an aesthetic so that you don't need to work full time, and spend a full-time job's worth of hours clacking away for just the chance at career income, welcome to the poor life choices club and may the odds be ever in your favor. We sincerely hope you like writing for its own sake because the lack of groupie threesomes is deplorable!

But if you just want to write a few hours on weekends and enjoy the video game/movie money that you get from selling the occasional short story–possibly while you putter on your novel for a few years–that's okay too.

Now, if you are struggling with the ability to write a certain amount, your decision might feel like it's out of your hands, but really it needs to be made with even more conscious and deliberate thought because everything you might decide to give to writing will "cost" you more. This decision becomes more important than ever if it's going to take you twice as much effort to go from casual writing to trying to get paid as it might someone without the same kinds of circumstantial fetters.

Most aspiring writers never face this simple question: how much do they actually even like writing? What do they want to give to writing? Will it be a hobby or a job or a career? It's like the mirror test in Never Ending Story that reveals one's true nature, but they never even get past the laser sphinxes. (What? 1984 pop culture references are too old for you? That's not that long ago. Only...um....carry the three...OH MY GOD!)

What happens to folks who want to BE writers but don't like writing that much: day three.
Image description. GIF of armor's helmet opening to reveal a charred skull
and Atrau recoiling.
Most aspiring writers just default to thinking they want it all–the whole combo platter with three sides and a large soda. They speak in florid prose about how much they absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably love writing so much, and then get irritated at the suggestion that they might want to engage in that beloved activity once a day. They may have this vague sense of what they want to get out of writing: Publication. Book deals. Groupie threesomes. Fame. Fortune. Groupie threesomes. Talk show circuit. See their story as a movie. Groupie threesomes. However, they never really stop and think about their level of committment. They just try endlessly to fill that insatiable maw.

2- This is a piece of the puzzle. And it's out of your control.

Writing every day is very important, but it's a piece of the puzzle and should be seen as such. Success, in whatever way you define such a thing, is usually based on a lot of things. If I were to make a list of factors which statistically affect a writer's success more than anything else, reading would probably be the top of the list. But what comes next might surprise you. If your goal is simply to be published by a major publisher, statistically speaking, being raised middle class (or higher) would actually be more important than writing daily. No, I'm not making that up. Such wealth tends to afford opportunities for time off to write, writing programs that will force productivity, can pay for really great developmental editors, can shop the book and fail for years without making money from it, and so on.

Also...consider this: based on what makes money and gets published, being white, male, and cis would be pretty high up there too. Being heterosexual would rank even though there have been some inroads in gay and lesbian literature.

No one is out there giving the advice "Go be upper-middle class." (Every once in a while you get some really salty old writer who is completely out of fucks and lays the shit down with a gruff: "Wanna be a writer? Marry rich. Fuck that person so good that their eyes permacross, and when you ask if you can work part time and write, they'll say, 'Follow your dreams baby!'") We put all our eggs in this daily-writing basket because for many people it's one of the only things they are in control of. We can't change our gender or our race. There's way less class mobility than anyone in this "meritocracy" wants you to think. But we can sit down and write every day.

At least many of us.

But keep in mind that the calculus for traditional success is based on a lot of systematic problems. Not being able to write every day is neither the single most important factor nor is it somehow under your control just because a culture that has difficulty talking about disability as anything but a moral failing won't recognize it. And most writers never face this reality about the publishing industry and about the cold bottom line equations that go into deciding not whether they're "good enough" but whether they'll SELL. They don't modulate their expectations or consider alternative paths. They just keep pounding out more and more daily writing and shopping for agents who know that (tragically) their halfway decent literary fiction about cissexism isn't going to recoup the cost of printing it.

3- Be realistic about limitations when defining success.

I don't want this to sound like "lower the bar." But everybody has to decide what they mean when they say they want to be a successful writer.

Most writers never do this. They never sit and think about what they want. Do they want to publish a novel? Publish a trilogy? Make some money? Get a fan letter? I once sat on a panel with someone whose yardstick for success was based on one thing alone: if someone out there wrote fanfic about their books. (That is, someone cared enough about those characters and that world to add to it somehow.) Have a cult following? Make a million dollars?

I was assured by the stationary store cashier that there
are writer groupies, so I'm sure this is not at all an unrealistic goal.
Image description: Justin Bieber groupies.

Most writers, if they think about what they want from writing at all, always want more. If they get the book, they want a big five. If they get the big five, they want a best seller. If they get a best seller they want a NY Times review. If they get a NY Times review, they want a great one. If they get a great one, they want a career of bestsellers. And suddenly you have some of the most successful writers of our generation still comparing themselves to the likes of King and Rowling (or Bulawayo and Alexie if you want to go to the "literary" side). It's never quite enough.

Maybe you have to give up the idea of the Stephen King career if you can't write more than five hours a week reliably. (That guy writes ten pages a day when he's off his game.) But you sure don't have to give up the idea of being published or making money. You sure don't have to give up the idea of having a reader walk up to you and say "Thank you for writing this. This meant something real to me."

No way!

4- Writing daily isn’t necessary to be a writer.

You know what you have to do to be a writer? You have to write. End of line. Done. Finito. That's all she wrote. Kick the tires and light the fires. I AM OUTOFHERE!

That's the end of anyone prescriptively being able to tell you what it takes. If anyone wants to be an elitist sphincter wipe about gatekeeping what being "A Writer™" means, they are being a shitheel, shouldn't do that, and you have my permission to hit them with a hardbound copy of House of Leaves.

Writers have this....thing. They sure do like to be elitist fuckers. "That person is so commercial. My writing is more substantive." "That writer doesn't have many readers. Look at how many books I've sold." "They're okay, but never made any money." "Oh they're fine if you like that sort of experimental stuff. I prefer something people might actually read." "That writer is too avant guard." "They're okay...for genre." My personal favorite: "Oh you're a...blogger." (For maximum effect, imagine about a half a second pause between "blog" and "er.") Everyone wants to bolster their own claims of grandeur within the maelstrom of gazillions of writers (and no short supply of would be writer delusions, it's true) by taking everyone else down a peg or three as "not really real writers." But it's so much fucking bullshit.

These people who turn writing advice into prescriptive nonsense and gatekeeping are just full of themselves. Is writing every day good advice? Yes. (Actually it's great advice.) Does that make anyone who doesn't "Not a Real Writer"? Fuck anybody who thinks they get to arbitrate that sort of thing. And here's the punchline to this shitty joke about who the hell died and made them the king of the really real writers: They're never going to bequeath you this status you crave anyway. I know people with three books and an MFA who write for hours every day and still struggle with imposter syndrome. Sometimes you just have to learn to find that sense of who you are by reaching in.

Being a writer (A really really real True Writer™) doesn't have to be anything more than writing. And if you get artistic fulfillment out of writing twice a month, enjoy that. That is what it's all about because it's sure not about money, fame, or groupies. (Seriously there is a deplorable lack of groupies!)

A lot of writers never got through the Valley of Self Validation. They spend their lives looking to other writers to give them that nod that they think will be what they need to feel real. And they just keep looking. And they miss a lot of what writing makes great because instead of enjoying their relationship with it, they're chasing something that's always going to be just out of reach.

5- Get as close as you can.

Okay. Time to give the devil its due. Writing every day is a really good way to not only to get better at writing, but to build a body of works and once you start having an audience, it keeps you relevant. It's good advice.

It's great advice.

This is the reason so many people love NaNoWriMo even though they can't keep up with it for the whole month. It forces them into a container of extremely effective discipline. (Ironically they then are annoyed by the idea of writing every day for the other eleven months.) What Nano fosters is a daily expectation and many of these writers discover that coming to the page day after day starts to expand their creativity and productivity. Suddenly they're writing at a clip with the proverbial wind in their hair and it feels great.

Yes, indeedy that's the snake oil I've been selling for years now.

So get as close to it as you can. If you can't write three days a week, write the other four. If you can't write five or ten days a month, you write the other twenty or twenty-five. Permission and understanding with your limitations is essential to your self-care, but a boot in your ass might be needed during the other times. Grab ten minutes here. A half hour there. Write a sentence–just one damned sentence. Do what you can do.

A lot of writers who can write every day fall the fuck to pieces when they can't for some reason. Family emergency hits and it's like watching someone punch the bottom of the Jenga tower on the first move. (Ironically, the elitist sphincter wipes will suddenly understand fully the inability to write daily. This compassion will, of course, disappear as soon as they can do it again.) Writers who lose the ability to go full bore don't just fall behind on some of the writing, but all of it. A monkey wrench in their gears and they can be out of commission for weeks or even months. It's because they never learned how to do as much as they could. It's all or nothing, and that fucks them up.

6- Mind the gap.

Remember when I said that writers had to have a brutally honest relationship with themselves? Yeeeeeeaaaaah. About that. That sound you hear is the music. Time to face it.

No one gets to tell you that your reason for not writing doesn't count. (And fuck their ableist shit if they try.) You may even have to learn to be a little gentle with yourself for the sake of self care, and not push so hard that you end up making things worse....

....but at the end of the day you also have to patrol that border from the other side.

You can't let your reason become your excuse.

I wish I could tell you it's not easy when you've got a built in reason not to write  No one around you will judge. (If they do, you Deep Blue Sea those fuckers right in mid speech like the genetic killing machine you are.)

"Does Marcellus Wallace look like a shark?"
Image description: Samuel Jackson in Deep Blue Sea

But you also have to be honest about if you probably can write and are using a built in reason not to. It can be deliciously seductive when you can even mostly fool yourself. Only you know the truth Grasshopper, and I'm not here to judge, but you have to be super honest with yourself.

Because the wonderful world of writing success (whatever that means to you) doesn't give a shit whether you have a completely valid reason or not. No agent is going to turn down your book, but then recant when you explain that you actually can't write every day. So it's up to you to hit those targets as hard and as often as you can.

Most writers never hit this point of candid self reflection. They're always just a bit delusional when it comes to themselves and their work, and for most of them it's a fatal disconnection with any hope of writing success. That book of theirs is almost done. They're just about to have the time to really commit to a second draft. They are sure they don't need another revision even though they got a stack of form rejections. They just know they are going to be the next Dan Brown even though their great idea has been stuck on chapter 6 for a decade. They never quite cultivate that inner voice that says "You are not that great, your shit is not that brilliant, and you fucking need to get your ass to work."

7- One of the main reasons writers advise daily writing is because sitting down is discipline and creativity is a habit.

There are several reasons to write daily.

Improving craft. Building a body of works (which even if you don't use directly, you can draw from). Expanding your vocabulary. Even emotional processing.

But two of the reasons most responsible for the unswerving ubiquity of the advice to write daily are that it cultivates the discipline to write for longer and that it taps into whatever primal neurological functions are responsible for creativity.

When we first start to sit and write, we're probably good for about ten to fifteen minutes, and that ten to fifteen minutes comes at lurch. We struggle for that first word, gain a spurt of creative flow, and are done faster than an awkward 80s movie virgin.

Image description:
Text on a wavy background:
"You can't use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have.
Maya Angelou
Now here's where the magic that so many of the authors who are your heroes talk about: that fifteen minutes is your brain's base ability to focus on the raw creation of language. And it's almost a physiological constant. Untrained, we can turn imagery and thoughts into words for about fifteen minutes before that part of our brain needs a break. Just like if we were learning vocabulary, doing sums, trying to memorize lines, engaging in forensic logic, or any other hard mental activity that requires focus. But like other kinds of disciplined thought, if we work at it, we get better. We can do it for longer. We can concentrate harder. Our thinking is more efficient. Pushing that to hours and hours is possible, but only if we maintain that discipline. (This is why our mental functions get compared so frequently to muscles.) Most people can't get up and write for twelve hours straight, but JK Rowling can because she gets up and writes for ten hours straight most of the time. And like any other mental function or muscle, this discipline will atrophy with disuse.

The second component might be even more incredible. Creativity is a habit.

Oh yes. 

It's like brushing your teeth or doing fifteen push ups before you go to bed at night. If you're not used to doing it, it feels very unnatural and strange. You have to remind yourself–maybe put a post it note on your mirror. You might forget for a few days. But if you keep doing it, pretty soon you're going to start thinking about it before it's time. And the same thing happens with creativity. You do it at the same time every day, and it's not long before you start to get creative BEFORE it's time.

And this is why writers (and all creatives really) advise trying to work at the same time every day. Before you know it, you start to "create" before it's time. Or if you prefer the poetic imagery, your muse will be tamed and will be there waiting for you at the appointed time. For writers that means the words and ideas are gushing sometimes an hour or more before it's time to sit down. Once your muse has been tamed, it'll meet you where you tell it to.

All kinds of people who don't think they are creative at all have tried to do something intentionally creative for a few minutes each day at the same time and ended up after a couple of weeks–lo and behold–discovering that they have amazingly creative wellsprings and fantastic ideas.

But we have this sort of cultural unwillingness to understand creativity as a habit. We don't think of it as something anyone can develop. We are constantly focused on "practical" time management and cramming our schedules full of workouts, self improvement, and professional development.  It wouldn't even occur to most people that the idea of spending an hour a day trying to think creatively could be anything but wasting time. Then we turn around and think of creativity as "genius." It's why people fall over creatives and say "Where do you get your ideas?"

But I want to be The One. I want to be a talented genius!

Why is this important if you can't write every day?

Two reasons. 


The ability to keep writing can be drilled. It's probably easier to extend this period of linguistic focus naturally and doing so over the course of daily writing is the most natural way to do so, but you don't have to.

You can sit and write as fast as you can for as long as you can before you lose concentration. It may have to be free writing because you don't want to be sucking on the end of your pen and wondering what your character's motivation is. If you've never done it before, it'll probably be around ten or fifteen minutes. Then you stop, take about a half an hour break, and do it again. You may want to limit yourself to three or four "sets" before taking a serious break of several hours or an overnight. Pretty soon, you'll notice that you're writing for longer and longer each time. Eventually, you may even find that your ability to write is chiefly governed by things like hand fatigue, hunger, or sleepiness.

Someone who can't write every day can do these deliberate exercises on those days when they can write. In much the same way that a serious athlete with a full time job puts in extra training on the weekends.


Creativity is a habit, and writing is one way to tap it. For a writer, writing is probably the best way to tap it because it will always have a strong connection to words and language. However, the important thing is to do creative in some way. And this is where a lot of the wisdom comes from about "If you can't write every day at least BE A WRITER every day."

Now, I gotta tell you.... Most able bodied, neurotypical, time privileged people see that advice and seize on it as a pretty good reason not to do the work. I mean they LOVE this idea. They will not be brutally honest with themselves. And they will convince themselves that thinking about their characters for two minutes while they wait for their raid guild-mate to "BRB--bio" is totally their day's effort. It's their Get Out of Jail Free card for actually writing, which is why I don't talk about it much.

But we can cultivate our creativity without actually forming words. It won't help you with the skill and craft of writing the way actually writing will, but it will help you with that habitual creativity so that it's there and working for you on a day that works.

The trick here is about thinking creatively. Opening one's mind to what if. Being creative at the appointed time isn't just letting yourself daydream, though. This is hard to explain and why creativity takes some cultivation, but you want to let your mind "wander" without letting it go "out of bounds." You go where the tracks take you, but don't let your train completely derail or jump tracks. It might be particularly useful to imagine your characters in other books and how they would react. (I once had a blast on an airplane where I couldn't write imagining how Hamlet would deal with being in the Hunger Games. It didn't go well for the over-thinker, let me tell you.) You probably can't cultivate a deep and rich habit of creative writing flow from JUST thinking about it, but you can make sure that on days you can't write, you don't lose any ground.

Most writers never learn why they're sitting down to write every day (and preferably at the same time). They sort of just trust that the magical unicorn fairies will show up like always and shoot rainbow splooge of inspiration all over them. Consequently, they never really know how to handle it if they can't write for some reason. They don't realize that a few timed writing exercises and spending twenty minutes in a quiet room imagining their character in a Percy Jackson novel might do the trick.

8-Tap flow Floating Half Hour

Want to hear a secret?

It's true! Sometimes in my life (like right now) I set up schedules that are based on getting up early or writing late because the more everything else is falling apart, the more I need to cling to a disciplined and set writing time. Currently the wake up time is 6am and I hiss at the day star, question my life choices, but then slink to the computer with a grumble. But most of the time, even though there's a sort of general writing time, I am constantly fiddling with the nobs to get a little extra sleep, take care of something that needs doing during office hours, do emergency tag ins, or just take a nap. If I can't write in the morning, I can sit down at night. If not night, that spot in the afternoon. While I was still in my old house, I knocked out a lot of articles in the two hours of nap time.

It's always better to sit down at the same time every day, but that's not always possible . The next best thing is to get your creativity (your muse if you prefer) to work on your schedule. You make that muse be your butt monkey and not the other way around! That's right folks! After all this talk about creativity showing up at the same time every day, I'm going to hit the big reveal–that's only half the story. Never since Kaiser Soze has the big reveal been so big and revealy.

One of my very favorite books on the process of writing–Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande–extensively outlines the way that writers yearn to have the words simply come when they sit down to the page. But early on in the book she talks about the floating half hour of writing. This is an exercise (much more detail about how and what to expect in the link) where a writer sits down at a different 30 minute window each day. The time moves throughout the day but is scheduled to the day before and considered a "debt of honor" by the writer.

Soon, you find that the words come when you sit down to the page. Every time.

Of course the floating half hour might run into precisely the same kinds of obstacles as writing every day does, and it would be important to give yourself permission for self-care in these situations (as long as you stay brutally honest with yourself). But depending on what the reason is that you can't write daily, you might be able to do this exercise in a limited way. Perhaps you give as many days as you can in a row before the circumstance manifests that makes it impossible, and do it again as soon as you can.

Most writers have not mastered their muse. Their muse has mastered them. The resistance of internal forces to creative expression as soon as it begins to resemble actual work can be quite significant. They write when they are inspired (or not if they aren't) and the idea of simply sitting down when one has time has a strange sort of dread to them. If they have mastered it often it is through a daily regimen that is schedule dependent and has a hard time with even the smallest alterations.

9- Don’t Make it so damned hard.   (Yes, that's a link...to an article about JUST this.)

Part of the reason I don’t like NANO (you know...other than all the other reasons) is that it takes this ridiculously difficult daily word count and hangs people's sense of whether or not they've got what it takes on that. Daily writing is great advice, but people hear that and start to get really nervous.

Most writers have off days. They get sick. They have a break up. They literally can't even. When that happens maybe they don't want to sit for five hours in front of their comedy sci-fi novel about Chippy the Chipper Warrior who is just so fucking happy and funny and NICE to everyone that she ends up defeating the genocidal Glurgenots with kindness and being the lord of the universe. Some days are just not Work in Progress days.

Understand that what you're trying to do by writing every day (or almost every day) is the same thing that an athlete would be doing to jog or hit the gym for a light workout during the off season or that a musician doing some scales and a couple of songs on vacation or even someone who tries to speak in a language they're worried about forgetting at least a few minutes a day or a couple of hours a week. You're trying to stay sharp. Practiced. You're trying to keep your edge–or at least not lose it so fast.

The same thing goes for writing every day. You don't have to make every single day a peak performance of six grueling hours in front of your work in progress. (You probably aren't going to get your novel written in a year if you can't sit down and write for a few hours a day, but maybe that isn't your goal.)You can take a day off. You can not write on your book for a week. You can do six days a week instead of seven. You can make your session ten or fifteen minutes long on weekdays. Sometimes it's enough to just keep your craft and skill from atrophying with disuse.

"Write every day" can feel insurmountable if you are expecting Stephen King caliber output every day. But if you stop and think that "writing" might just involve a thoughtful Facebook post where you really think about the language,  a few minutes on an e-mail that you compose with some care, or a small journal entry where you play with language a bit. Maybe then the whole concept becomes a little more manageable–despite difficulties.

Most writers never really get this about daily writing. It's all or nothing. It has to be on "the book they want to publish" and it has to be a mind numbing session where they crank out five pages, otherwise they are not worthy of REAL™ writerdom. It never occurs to them that many of the reasons daily writing remains such spectacular advice could be achieved in just a few minutes, could be done on things they probably were going to have to write anyway, and doesn't have to be so damned hard.

10- Do whatever works.


We who can write every day have no goddamned business being the gatekeepers of what makes for a real writer. Or judging whether the reason someone can't do some part of it is worthy. I'm not going to give advice from a position of privilege that is as trite as "don't listen to them," but in the absence of being able to get every able bodied, neurotypical, time privileged asshole to line up so I can slap them all at once, let me just make sure that I'm clear that you don't have any responsibility to conform to anyone's preconceived notions of what makes a really real writer. You do you.

Image description: Three Stooges gif of someone slapping all three of them at once.
When you've written that bestseller, it's not going to matter one fucknoodle whether or not you did the first draft entirely with speech to text, wrote it in chunks during periods when your depression wasn't devastating, or had to sputter it out over five years because between three jobs, you only had a couple of hours on the weekend.

Most writers never confront this idea that they need to figure out what works for them. They cling to the process of their idols like they are taking a pilgrimage that must be followed exactly or they struggle to pour themselves into some container of One True Way™ they perceive. While some advice is impossible to ignore ("Read a lot.") A lot of knob fiddling can go on to find the individual process that works the best.

As long as you maintain that self-honesty (which is between you and you), no one else has any right to decide if how or when or what you write is worthy or not.

11 Maybe try non-traditional routes

Hey so I totally get that getting an agent and a book deal is an incredibly validating experience and many writers consider it if not the end all goal, at least the first major goal in a series. And if that's your dream wedding and white picket fence, don't let me harsh your squee. Never give up! Never surrender!

However it is important to remember that traditional publishing is motivated by cost analysis. If you can't sell enough books to pay for your book's print run, you need to write something that is SO good, a publisher can't bear to imagine a world without it. Both of those come from someone's decision whether or not to publish.

That means gatekeepers.

It's always a bad sign when the agent does this.
Image description: Gandalf icon with text "You shall not pass!" 

Gatekeepers read your book and decide if your book is either A) going to make money or B) good enough to lose money on. It can be daunting to consider that one may have to work for literally tens of thousands of hours only to hit a gatekeeper who might shut the whole game down because they don't like your voice.

Non traditional publishing has flung open the doors for all kinds of writers. Yes, there is more dross than ever before as writers ignore editors and go for instant gratification, but there are also choirs of voices that have been pushed to the margins basically since the printing press who can now be heard. The process of finding an audience is more immediate in many non-traditional routes. The immediate feedback can be motivating. And it is possible to tailor one's own schedule a bit. (I often have days that are less writing and more FB/Blog/promotional based when I am feeling particularly ADD/spacey.)

But let me just make this perfectly clear: if there's any group out there who will congregate in large numbers, ravenously consume your fiction no matter how sporadic its schedule of release is, won't care that you didn't take another three years to put it through four more drafts, (and may even give you some money to keep going), they definitely exist online.


Last thing I want to say.

Only you can write like you. Only you have your particular cocktail of experiences and voice. And even if you're not writing autobiographical characters, your writing will be touched by your experience and your life and your unique take on the world.

The world needs that.

Whether you know how difficult maneuvering through a pedestrian world is with PTSD or you know how anxiety and depression team up to eat whole days of life up or you know what it is to be poor and work non-stop to make ends meet in a world of colleagues who had a leg up every step of the way, the world NEEDS to hear your voice. They need to hear your take on things. They need to see life through your eyes. That is something that no one else can do but you.

You might not be able to sit down every day at the same time at your writing desk and put in your monocle and pour a glass of brandy and write like the able bodied, neurotypical, mentally healthy, time privileged folks who seem so comfortable judging your dedication and effort, but you have one thing they don't.

You have your unique voice. And the world needs that.

Image description: post it with text
"The world needs your new novel, author.
It's time to get it written.