I’m thinking about writing today.
Not that that’s anything unusual. I think about writing all the time. I think about writing a hell of a lot more than I actually write, which is a big part of the reason there’s not more cool Tim books in the world for you to enjoy, and for me to make grocery money from.
Today, though, I’m engaging in the sort of thinking about writing which is about how best to approach the work, as opposed to what the work should be. Thinking about how to actually organize my self and my space and my time to attain some level of regular productivity, so I can more reliably share the tales I want so much to tell.
I’ve written here a few times about my attempts at getting on a daily schedule, writing so many words a day, every day, and keeping at it. One enormous complication is my depression, which wears huge fucking cleated boots it uses to regularly stomp me into the floor and crush whatever dreams I’m currently dreaming. I’ve written about my struggles with it a few times, so if you’re curious, just click on the appropriate “Depression” category in the sidebar to find those posts.
Today, we’re gonna go with the assumption that I will overcome that hobnailed monster, and focus on what I need to do to best accomplish the work.
The most productive I’ve ever been as a writer was in the year following my escape from the U.S. Army, when I was living with my then-girlfriend in Kassel, Germany. I wrote two novels, one short (two hundred and something pages) and one long (over 600 pages), along with several short stories. Had I maintained that rate of production, I’m fairly certain I’d be a rich man now, and if not, I’d at least be making a much more comfortable living.
My approach then was to write five pages a day, then rewrite the previous day’s pages. I worked through the morning (after a trip to the gym) and early afternoon. The system obviously worked well for the younger me, but I was far less in the grip of depression then.
I think it’d be foolish to dismiss the importance of being with someone who is supportive of your dreams. My girlfriend in Germany was enthusiastic about my writing, which of course further energized me and made me feel good about what I was doing.
Counter to that, I had a discussion with my ex-wife years ago in which I bemoaned the fact that she didn’t believe in me as a writer. She asked why it mattered whether she believed in me or not, said it shouldn’t. Said it didn’t matter if I believed in her as a computer programmer or not, so what was the difference?
Well, it makes a difference. When the person in your life who is your primary mirror of self thinks you’re a fucktard for wanting to write, and doesn’t think you’re going anywhere with it, that shit sticks.
And if the person thinks it’s wonderful that you write and can’t wait to see what you produce, that sticks too. And it lifts you up and makes you happy when you work and you look forward to showing them what you’ve accomplished.
For the first time in years I’m blessed with such a muse, and even though she lives hundreds of miles away (for now), and I can’t really benefit daily from her loving presence, I am working more again. I love her. She loves me. She believes. And damn what a difference.
Thank you, Kate.
Now please don’t take all that as me saying it’s anyone else’s responsibility for whether I, or any of you, writes or not. Ultimately we all rise and fall on our own. My failures are all mine, and ultimately my successes are as well. But it’s an important factor. If you want to make it as a writer it’s better you choose to be with someone who loves that about you than someone who wishes you’d burn the keyboard and go sling burgers or something instead.
And if you live with and/or love a writer, try to help them along. Don’t be an emotional weight on their back. Don’t be a dream crusher. There’s enough of that in the world without getting it from your loved ones.
But I digress. Okay, catching up…I have depression, which pushes me down, but I also now have someone in my life who lifts me back up, at least somewhat (depression is fearsomely strong). Enough to make a difference, enough to help me find the keyboard more often. That being the case, the question is, how do I proceed?
Einstein’s old statement that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results applies here. And I have been through the same cycle of “getting my shit together” so many goddamned times through the years, I’ve learned that lesson well.
One thing I’ve tried to figure out is what to expect from myself every day. During my time in Germany, five pages of fresh prose a day worked. Similarly when I wrote Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, a goal of 1,000 words a day worked just fine till I was about 80% done…then depression and circumstance kicked me in the face and it took a year to do the rest.
A couple of years ago, I started another Wilde book, determined to write it as a NaNoWriMo project (in other words, taking part in National Novel Writing Month, during which people try to write an entire novel during November). I think I aimed at 1,600 words a day. Went fine for two or three days, then I started to fall behind. Then I failed.
So 1,600 seems too high for me to sustain. 1,000 seems to be a sweet spot, and I can usually do that if I’m focused and not too depressed. But when depression hits, that 1,000 can be too tough, and once I start falling behind, despair enshrouds me, and I lose my faith in my ability to do this work at all.
At the start of this year, I blogged that I was going to set a simple goal of 500 words a day, every day, and if I managed more, that’d be awesome. But it was just another plan. Just me doing the same thing over again, just with a smaller goal, and I failed. Quickly.
I feel kind of pathetic talking about it, because when you fail, you feel like a failure. But I try to be nicer to myself than that these days, now that I know, more objectively, just what a nightmare depression is, and how it’s not my fault I suffer from it. It sucks.
One decision I’ve come to: I’m a meticulous writer. Many experts will tell you to write fast, not to edit as you go, just get it all down on the page, and once it’s finished you can revise and revise and revise till it’s what you want it to be. Indeed, that’s the big message of NaNoWriMo, just throw the words on the page, finish it, even if it’s crap. I have tried repeatedly to work that way, and it just does not work for me.
I like my writing to be as close to final draft state as possible when I write it the first time. So when I say I’ve done 1,000 a day, I’m usually not saying I just threw out 1,000 words of raw material it’s gonna take me a few more passes at before it’s any good, I’m saying I wrote 1,000 words of prose that’s nearly ready to publish.
I just naturally polish as I write. And when I try not to, it doesn’t work. I lose momentum from reeling around with no bearings, and I lose faith in the work, and I produce crap I don’t even feel like trying to polish.
So I’m giving myself permission to be the slower writer who doesn’t have to do tons of polishing, rather than the fast writer who does the detail work the second or fifth time through. That’s the writer I am, and trying to “loosen up” and be a different writer doesn’t help me.
I’m thinking about my words-per-day goal, and a minimum of 500, allowing for more if the muse kisses me, still seems a good idea. So I’ll probably (re)start with that.
I’m also pondering the worldly elements of my approach to writing. I tend to do most of my work at a cafe’, drinking a lot of coffee, and that works for me…until I hit a black patch and won’t leave the Byrdcave because I haven’t shaved yet, and I just don’t have the gumption to shave…I’ve made my output to some degree reliant upon getting somewhere I can’t always go, and that’s a plan with an obvious flaw.
So, though I benefit from the cafe’ environment, I need to establish a comfortable spot in the cave I can use when I can’t face the world at large. I may not be as productive in that spot, overall, but if I can maintain momentum and keep writing, that’s what counts.
Anyway. These are the thoughts that I am thinkin’. I’ll keep you posted as, hopefully, I advance in my cause…
Dear friend. I follow your blog and find your writings inspiring. Your musings on Miss Kate have such heart that I can feel the romance. I look forward to hearing about her and I can’t forget the red hair.
You have greatness.
Enjoy your blog a lot.
Have you read the War of Art? I’m still a slave to Resistance, but I highly recommend it and am curious about your opinion of it. http://www.stevenpressfield.com/the-war-of-art/
Please ignore my previous post. I’m a moron. It was your blog that turned me onto the War of Art in the first place! D’oh!
Depressed? Stressed? Not enjoying things you do, or want to do? Then…
“DO THE THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO DO.”
Yes, THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield is one of the few books about writing I think is worth reading. I think I’m due to reread it, as a matter of fact.
It works for me to start the day by reading my writing from the previous day. I just naturally start editing and then find it easier to progress from editing into writing today’s part. Also can’t do the “let it flo” thing – must edit, can’t help myself!