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

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Mailbox: Guest Blogger Amy Puts Down the Smack

She takes on one from the legion of "You Don't Have to Write Every Day" warriors.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Friday.  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 may end up in the mailbox.  I will even repeatedly tackle the endless deluge of people who think that being a writer somehow involves not writing.]   

Anonymous says: 

You don't really have to write every day. For some people that actually kills their creativity.

Amy's* Reply:

[*Wait?  AMY???  Who is this AMY person?

So, as you may or may not know, on my Facebook and G+ page, I post "reruns."  Most days I post one  the day's post and one rerun. I also, very often, turn comments that I get into Mailbox fodder.  Thus it was that a little over a week ago, I put up the rerun Five Things You Can Do to Become A Better Writer Practically Overnight.  Amy--who if you've been paying attention, you may know is a long time commenter and even has asked a mailbox question--wrote a reply.

You'll have to go there and check it out if you want the broader context of this mailbox.  But basically there was an anonymous comment.  And my friend Amy sent me an e-mail saying "Do you mind if I post this.  My reply was basically "Mind?  MIND??  I get an e-mail or comment like this at least once a week. I'd like to feature you as a guest blogger."

So here we go.]

I'm a writer. I make more than a living wage as a writer. I do so by writing anything that someone pays me to write. Except marketing material. I don't have a good relationship with the exclamation point. We have … history. It's sordid and involves a lot of abuse to innocent metaphors. Much too ugly to go into here.
If you wanted to get paid to NOT do something,
you should have gone into agriculture.
~rimshot~

Besides, my point is that I'm a professional writer who makes enough money to eat proper meals that feature lots of fresh fruits and vegetables but no ramen, go on a vacation for 10 days every two years, and pay my San Francisco Bay Area rent.

Hey, let's talk a sec on that rent thing. I rent an apartment. I don't own a house. Kinda weird, hunh, given that a Bay Area rent is the size of a mortgage payment on a small Bay Area condo? Well, I did own a townhouse once. It was a very nice one, having been extensively remodeled and upgraded just six months before I bought it. For three long years. Long years. Did I mention that there were three of them? Yeaaah.

You see, when you own a house, you have to maintain it. When you get a slab leak, it's your responsibility to call plumbers and restoration companies and insurance companies, and then deal with assessors and contractors and oh let's just stop talking about it right here. Leave it at this: home maintenance requires time that I choose to devote to writing.

Don't mind us, Amy.
Unions?  No we're not talking about unions
We're...uh...talking about Joss Whedon and...uh...feminism.
Go back to writing.
Goooooooooooood.
Writing every day is so important to me that there are dust bunnies that have been annoying me for a month, and yet I still haven't done anything about them beyond throwing a vacuum cleaner around for five minutes to keep them from unionizing against an uncaring management that ignores them.

I write every day because I'm a writer. If I were a gardener, you bet your boots I'd garden every day. Graphic artists create and revise graphics every day. I had a friend in my early college years who was a professional violinist, and oh hells to the yes, she played violin every day. I remember that there was no point calling her in the morning because she started her practice session everyday at 8 on the dot, and didn't stop until 10:55 when she had to leave for class. Her commitment was so high that college was her second priority: she planned to take seven or more years to finish her four-year degree.

The funny thing is that writing has a unique set of detractors among creative endeavors. A substantial number of potential writers wave off the importance of daily practice even though they express florid passion about writing.

I have never met a musician who makes a living wage assert that three times of practice a month is fine or even three times a week. No one told my friend that playing the violin every day would make her into a less capable musician and perhaps even destroy her ability to play. She was a professional violinist, not a hobbyist. Other talented people trying to become professional musicians understand that the difference between a violinist who makes a livable income and a hobbyist is the level of commitment. Mozart didn't put his soul in a jar and hand it to Faust's tormentor to become amazing.

But somehow if writers like me have the same commitment, we will stifle our creativity? The hell?

What is it about writing that makes people think it's a delicate, fragile form of creativity that might shatter if you use it daily? Everything else we practice daily improves whether it's reading or drawing or muay thai. But somehow writing is so precarious it must be used only with caution?

No. Experimentation and history tell us otherwise. If writing needed to be handled so gently and its use metered, then it would not have survived to fill endless numbers of bookshelves for millennia.

I have written every day of my life since I was five years old. I cannot recall ever taking a day off. I've had several major surgeries, and still managed to put words on paper those days. When I don't write, I feel the same discombobulation that athletes who skip a workout day feel, and that sensation is only relieved when I write.

Worst. Easy money scam. Ever.
Until recently, my profession was being a technical writer. I still never skipped days from other writing. I always had an extra window open on my computer to write throughout the day. I always had a notebook and pencil next to me on my desk for the same. At home, I'd write more. And now that I've left my tech writer career, I have hours at a stretch during which I still write and write and write.

My tech writer career enhanced my creative writing. I could spend hours every business day writing in a pedantic style, giving my obsessive-compulsive writing eccentricities a place to play and simultaneously giving my creative writing their own place to play. And oh wow, how amazing when I'd let the two sides play together! My tech material got a little pop and my creative material got stripped of stupid tangents and hundreds of unnecessary words.

I'm not special or even approaching unique. Research says that I'm completely average. The rare successful writers who write much less than I do are the special snowflakes that the universe creates now and then just to make things more interesting.

It's a cinch to test if you are one of those rare butterflies who have so much innate yet fragile talent that daily practice stifles creativity. Try it. For an entire year, call your talent on its bluff: write every day. Be good to yourself by giving it all you've got. Don't submarine yourself by intentionally trying to foil the experiment. After the year, compare the body of your year's work with the body of your previous year's work. Don't worry about the ratio of complete garbage to acceptable draft. Just count the work that you feel inclined to save to expand on, revise, rewrite, and whatever else it might take to make the draft something you're pleased with.

You're normal if the ratio of garbage to salvageable leans toward garbage, but the quantity of salvageable is greater and perhaps of higher quality than the quantity and quality of the salvageable work from before the year's experiment.

And if not, then congratulations and sympathy: you have a huge talent for writing, but it's fragile and easily ruined. You're likely to be happiest as a hobbyist writer and to find a different profession.

Then you win this and you get to live the dream.

It's not the worst thing to have a different profession. You might even have a profession that you can tell your parents about and that might not prevent you from serving on the Supreme Court. Me? Oh hell, no, I am never telling my dad that I'm a smut writer.

Unless I just did.

Hi Dad!

My reply to Amy:

Word.

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