|Amy Tan and Stephen King|
The Rock Bottom Remainders
There's a part in "On Writing" (the one by Stephen King) where he talks about letting his son stop playing saxophone. Not because he didn't pull it out and practice like he should (he did), but because he didn't ever cut loose. He didn't jam. He didn't keep practicing after time was up. He didn't add a flourish to a piece of music. He just didn't seem to enjoy it.
I sympathize a lot with this actually. I stopped enjoying band when I switched from trumpet to trombone, but kept at it for two and a half years anyway.
A lot of people want to be writers. Even if I somehow didn't know this on principle, a casual glance at my inbox would make it crystal clear. Oddly enough many don't seem to enjoy writing very much. It is more like a burden, and if they do it at all it is similar to the obligation of saxophone practice.
I'm in that moment between a lot of blog-centered admin work (like new update schedules, guest blogs, and a poll where I need to sift through a gagillion nominations) and ADD decided to make today extra punchy for me. And so today sucked. It sucked hard. And not in the good, eye-contact and perfect friction kind of way.
But...give me one didactic moment of pez dispenser shaped wisdom here. At least as an allegory.
I still wrote. A lot. Creatively. For HOURS. I put a post up about "The Name of Your Star Destroyer" and spent the day responding to people's replies with the ill fated destinies of their various ships. It was fun. It was silly. It distracted me from work at first in an annoying way that I had executive dysfunction about and kind of couldn't stop but then in a "might as well enjoy it since I'm not getting anything done thanks to you fucking brain weasels" way.
But here's the money shot, and there's no getting around it: it was writing.
It wasn't literary. It wasn't my best. It wasn't anything I would stick with a magnet on the refrigerator. (Okay maybe the one with the rainbow pineapple.) I'm not going to turn it into a short story. There will be no novelization. But I still did some writing. I flexed my creative muscles and had the athlete's equivalent of a jog around the park to stay in shape.
Writing every day is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice successful writers give and one of the most resisted by those who want to BE writers. And maybe it might help to know that every single day doesn't always have to be ten pages of your magnum opus. It'll be there tomorrow.
Today's post will not make "The Best of." It will disappear quietly into the night with a hundred other "personal updates" that don't involve death or disease. It is filler slapped up on a tough day. If I did a thousand more like it, I'd lose all my patrons and be eating ramen without the flavor packets. What I did do was more akin to skipping practice to ONLY do a cut-loose jam. But even today–a day I can't seem to bull-ride my brain into more than a few minutes of haphazard wordsmithing–has involved hours of writing...just for fun.
Just for the flourish.
Black Toast. What anyone who interrupts my writing time will be.ReplyDelete
Plaid orange, which is also the name of my next band.ReplyDelete
Chris, you're describing two categories of writing, or at least bring them to my mind, that I think of as "project writing" and "disposable writing". Project writing is anything that I aspire to publish one way or another - book, article, blog entry, etc. Project writing may or may not ever produce revenue, but it at least aspires to, even if the dream hasn't been realized. Disposable writing is more spontaneous, only has a lifespan of as long as it takes to scroll off a page or be replaced by newer content, and has zero expectation or intention of ever producing revenue. If it does, it's because it drove a few pennies worth of traffic to someone else's page. For me, the disposable writing means stuff like FB comments and posts on discussion boards, those quaint relics where people used to discuss things before FB cannibalized most of them.ReplyDelete
"Disposable" writing can be and often is fleeting and unimportant, but that doesn't mean it's always garbage. In fact, like a good musician jamming a tune that will never get played again, it can be quite good. It's like keeping the creative machine oiled, even when it's to spin donuts rather than drive toward a destination (project). It's loose enough not to get hung up about whether you're mixing a musician metaphor with a joyriding metaphor. Even if it's destined for oblivion almost as soon as you hit "Submit", it is fun, or at least somehow more satisfying that going a whole day without any writing at all.
I don't know if you'll find this distinction relatable, but since the OP suggests you do, I'm curious how much of the disposable "jamming" writing you feel like you can do before it stops feeling like it qualifies for "writing every day" - that feeling that makes you feel like a writer. I'm interested because I struggle with that sense of proportion. If judged on completed projects, either submitted or published, I'm not much of a writer, and nowhere close to writing every day. If I count comments and posts over the years, then I'm prolific and practically a role model for everyday writing. Where do you see yourself on that continuum, and just as importantly, how does your location on it compare to where you'd like to be on it?
I know you thought of this post as, "...filler slapped up on a tough day." I wanted to let you know it didn't read that way. Not to me.ReplyDelete
I've had a cold for a week and a half and I'm exhausted, so I'm having trouble putting it into words, but this blog was something I needed to read.
I've taken the advice to write daily to heart. Acknowledging the progress I've made on a good, productive day is straightforward, but the bad days are tricky. I wasn't sure how much writing I'd have to do or how good it had to be to count toward my "daily writing." I don't want to skate by on a bare minimum (certainly not on a regular basis), but there are days when it's all I can do just to crank out a stream-of-consciousness exercise.
Reading this made me feel more confident about the effort I put in on bad days. At the very least, I'm training myself to write through to tough conditions. It's also fun. Even if what I write on a bad day is trash, I write because there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.
This is a really useful post. One of the things I find a problem (getting better, but still there) is the feeling that if I'm writing, it has to be producing something worthwhile, and if it's not contributing to one of current projects, it's a waste, which means I tend towards getting blocked. Articles like this help to remind me to write anyway!ReplyDelete