Robert Gryphon blogs on learning the novelist's craft to pay for better quality cat food. All writing-related conversation welcome.
The quote by Sol Stein in the previous post discouraged me deeply when I first read it. It annoys me freshly as I see it here again. This statement seems to promote writing as a mystical and exclusive activity, a notion that is strangely at odds with the premise of the rest of the book it appears in. It suggests that a real writer is an obsessive fulfilling a compulsion, not a workman constructing a product of the best quality his training and practice can yield. Yet the main premise of that book and any number of others is that writing effective dramatic fiction is a craft that can be taught and learned.
When I made the decision to write with the goal of completing a novel (and perhaps more beyond), I was facing mental blocks that were years old, even decades depending on where our analysis begins. It took me a couple of years of considering it and a solid year of taking the idea seriously before I wrote the first words of the story. When I made the decision to begin writing for real, though, I knew I had to form the most important habit from day one. The most important habit, of course, is writing every day.
It was a delicate thing, getting started. I was unused to this kind of work, and the huge task I was starting could be massively daunting if I had been inclined to think about it. So, I didn’t, really. I had chosen what book I would write, and had ideas on characters and plot. On the first day I just wrote for a little while, whatever little bit of the book I felt like working on. I stopped before I wanted to stop, and I put the laptop aside.
The approach worked; I left me wanting more. I actually looked forward to writing the next day. This was something of an achievement considering I was operating against a massive mental block and many years of momentum in another direction. This was the reason I had taken so much time to think before starting - to psyche myself up to start. Anyway, I kept it up, never writing beyond where I felt like stopping, and as the days pile upon each other, it’s become a pretty compelling habit.
There is a difference between consistent practice and obsession. I’m a big fan of obsession when you can get it—loads of fun, and who needs sleep. But you can’t go from mental block to obsession in a single step. I’ll keep working on that, but for now, I waggle my body parts at the quote in question and say that what matters is getting yourself writing every day by any means necessary…not whether you inherently “can’t not.” I’ve been doing it very consistently for a handful of months now, and it’s not fun every day, but then, what is?
Although creating a book involves work other than writing the prose of it, the writing is the stuff the book will eventually be made of, so whenever I can, that’s the part I work on. Except when I hit a wall the other day….