Blog/ Writing

Misconceptions and ideas

I have a couple more questions to answer (and am happy to answer more if y’all have some!), and I’m gonna combine them into one post:

What’s the one (or a) misconception most people have about writers or indeed the ‘writing process’ that bothers you or annoys you?

It’s actually a misconception — or at any rate, I think it’s a misconception — that’s held by a lot of writers.

If Thou Art A Serious Writer, Thou Shalt Write Every Day. When I see a fellow author make this pronouncement — and I’ve seen it many, many times — it makes me wince.

I don’t write every day. It feels a little like coming out to admit that. I wish I did, so part of that wince comes from guilt. Clearly, I must not be Serious Writer. Yet I know that I am, and I also know that some days, what with things, I don’t write.

I do think it’s important to write often. Stories don’t finish themselves, and novels certainly don’t. And if you go a long time without working on a particular project, you may forget details of character and plot, and what you meant when you wrote that one note to yourself.

But some days, writing just doesn’t happen. Sometimes you need to get out of the house with friends, go to the gym, consume cultural products instead of striving to produce them, and/or do the damn laundry finally. You can beat yourself up about it (and believe me, I do — as my previous post makes clear) or realize that if you don’t experience existence away from the keyboard from time to time, you won’t have much to write about. Which leads to the second question:

Where do you get all the ideas for your books? I’m always getting stuck half way with no idea how to finish my books, any advice?

“From life” is far too simple an answer, but it encompasses everything: from the ecstatic and painful events in your own life and those of your friends, to the cell phone conversation you overhear on the bus, to the song you can’t stop listening to, to the poem that made you think of that girl, to the odd book you’re studying, to the headlines in your blog reader. It’s all material.

But how do you finish? I don’t know. As I wrote in my last post, I always struggle in the middle of a project — especially a novel — and don’t know how I’m going to get out. I firmly believe that you don’t ever learn to write books; you learn to write the book you’re writing. When you start your next book, then you have to learn how to write that one.

One semi-practical tip: sometimes, if you know what you want the end to be, writing it before you’ve figured out the middle can give you a point to aim for. I’ve been known to write the breakup before the hookup.

Other thoughts?

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  • Jeff P
    December 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

    That “thou shalt write everyday” nonsense reminds me of some very good advice I got back when I was doing Serious Photography. Which was to reserve some regular chunk of time, no matter how little, for your art. When I manage to follow that advice, it turns out to be very useful. But “every day or you’re not an artist” is just dumb — all you have to do to be an artist is make art; it doesn’t matter how often or how much.