For me, being a writer is sometimes akin to being a submarine commander — long stretches of inactivity punctuated by moments of sheer panic.
I’m not a Type A writer by nature. There are days when I’ll do just about anything to get out of writing. I’ll clean my desk. I’ll clean the toilet. I’ll clean the house. Hell, I’ll clean the neighbor’s house, while they’re not there, and then enjoy the panic and outrage that ensues from such well-meaning vandalism. Officer, someone came in here and tidied up and I can’t find anything! Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto!
The madness doesn’t end there. I’ll alphabetize my DVDs. Or my books. Do you have any idea how many books I have? Well, you’re reading a writing blog, I guess you probably do. Chances are you’re nodding your head right now, thinking of your own bookshelves and saying “yeah, you poor dope, better you than me — oh wait.”
I’ve considered buying a bicycle just so I could blow the tire on it, and then say to myself, hey, I’d love to write but I got this bicycle tire and chances are it ain’t gonna change itself. And then I’ll have a cup of coffee or two and watch the tire, just in case it does change itself and I have to call Ripley’s Believe It or Not. And I spend some time looking up the number for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, since I’m nothing if not well-prepared. I also look into some means of arming myself, should the now-sentient bicycle tire be out for vengeance. And so I construct a rudimentary lathe–
Well, the point is, some days I try to avoid writing.
Most writers know how that goes, even the disciplined ones. The myriads of whys and hows barely matter; unless you get some words on the page in the allotted time, you’ve flunked your daily test as a writer. And I will not chide you. Not today. If you can relate at all, I’m sure you’ve devised much more scathing criticisms than I could possibly level at you. You lazy bum. How much Ace of Cakes can one person watch? Do you call that research? Do you? Yeah, whatever, I’ve got my eye on you.
But then there are those other days, the ones few talk about. The days when you cannot possibly write enough.
I don’t mean the jacked-up rush of inspiration mode, where you chug three Red Bulls and stay up for forty-eight hours, writing until you can physically see the arc of your plot like a luminous vibrating parabola. I don’t recommend that anyway. It hurts. I mean the days where feel the keen sting of procrastination and what it’s cost you.
For me, those days usually come after I get some sort of great reader feedback, or attention from someone whose opinion I value, or even a great blog comment. Also, when one of my fellow indie authors releases a new book. There’s a sudden rush of activity in my email and on Goodreads and Twitter and suddenly I’m thinking: what am I doing? Must write faster! And then I throw the sandwich I’m eating out the window, because I’m a hardcore writer of writerliness and who has time to eat? Only to discover I didn’t actually open the window, and there’s now an apocalyptic Rorschach blot of turkey and mustard sprayed across the glass, and I’m back to cleaning the house.
Don’t throw food, is the moral there. It does not make for good writing, except for this one anecdote just now, which is too good to be true anyway. I’d never throw away a good sandwich like that.
But dubious and fictitious food-hurling farragoes aside, there is very real danger to the “all or nothing” approach to writing. It can make you impatient. It can make you skip things like editing, proofreading, or devising an ending, or finding out what happened to that missing character you added in Chapter Fourteen. I think we all know at least one indie writer who has clearly released a book before it was ready. No one wants their Amazon reviews to be all about how they misspelled “reprobate”. No one is fooled by re-releasing your own novel with “2.0” or “Director’s Cut” slapped on the cover. Pump the brakes and finish it right the first time. A sloppy, half-finished book is a great way to ensure your readers turn tail and never come back. A good reputation can take months or years to build, and a handful of typos to ruin. Don’t blow it.
The need to see some sort of progress, right now, to write All the Books — well, it can lead to burnout and bad decisions. So I guess it’s more like being a drunk than a submarine commander. Or, possibly, a drunken submarine commander. Which, incidentally, is the subject of my next book. I’m trying to come up with a killer title, perhaps Land Whoa!
And that’s why you slow down and think before acting on your impulses.
Finally, thank you to everyone who left such awesome comments on the previous entry. You guys are truly wonderful.