I spent a fair amount of every day brooding over one matter or another, although brooding is perhaps the wrong word; there is nothing unhappy or unpleasant about my thoughts. I am brooding now, for example, and I am also in a wonderful mood. Both of these things are true.
(I am in a wonderful mood because this morning, it snowed, and the first snow always makes me giddy as a child on Christmas morning. Although inexplicably, it snowed large, hard pellets giving the outside world the appearance of a place which has had Dipping Dots rained down on it.)
What I’m brooding about, this morning – and indeed, most of yesterday — is the matter of speed. Speed writing, specifically. This is not a new thing to cross my mind and leave me puzzling and worrying.
I have role models and icons for my life in all different places, for different reasons. In terms of writing style and character and tone, I look up to Neil Gaiman, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens. But in terms of output and speed of writing, I worship at the altars of Isaac Asimov, John Creasey, Andre Norton, etc. Blisteringly fast writers.
This is not the first time I’ve talked about this, aloud or on the internet. Always, my conversation comes ’round to mentioning that, when I was younger, I wrote a lot faster. 10,000 words in a day? Easy, and common. Some of the reasons why this used to be, but no longer is, I’ve identified. I was more confident then, not because of any great ego or pride in my own fiction, but just because I didn’t know to be less confident. There were so many things I never considered about my writing, so I just wrote.
These days, I consider more and write slower, and the quality of the prose that comes out is much improved for it. I know that The Nondescript is miles above anything I wrote in my teenager years (quietly, I cannot help but think it’s perhaps above anything I’ve written in my adult years too).
And yet, that’s never enough, I am never satisfied. What’s brought this up recently is the Tea Debacle, which features some members who are producing 20-30,000 words a week. super-duper! Zowie! This is no great marathonic stretch for some writers, who produce that much anyway. This just provides an outlet for them to continue business as usual and be able to talk about it.
I have a book called Yours, Isaac which is a collection of letters Asimov sent to friends and editors and other people over the years. He talks about writing, and about being so prolific. I will admit, I poured over it like a brand new author, looking for a magic feather that I knew was absolutely not there.
Because there is no magic feather, although in my weakness, I continue to look for it in every conversation I have about writing speed. I love learning more about how fast people write fast. It fascinates me, the same way a young boy might question Superman about what it’s like to fly. I long for it, I go nuts for the idea of it.
There’s no magic feather. I can tell you without asking anyone, the trick to it is: 1) Hard work 2) Discipline.
Of course. That’s true with everything.
Discipline is not an area in which I have any great success. It does not come easy to me, and it abandons me the moment I stop focusing on it. Moderation is another one. If I do not physically and consciously work to only have one or two cans of Mountain Dew a day, for example, then I would wind up having twelve or so. I have no middle gears. God forbid I ever develop a taste for alcohol (I won’t; I steer clear on purpose).
Discipline is where it falls apart for me. When I was younger and had more energy, I could spend more hours writing and get more done, because the love was enough. Now, I’m older and while the love is still there, it’s finding its living quarters in my head a little cramped. There are other things now: family, a son, bills, a house to clean, planning for events six months down the road, and so on. When I was younger, I did a poor job moving through life because the only thing in my brain was story. Turning it over and over and over. Now, I find that I really have to shunt other things to focus on story.
Well, what is the solution? I have no idea. I am hardly going to divest myself of my family or my life — both of which are simple, good things and I love them dearly — to better sacrifice myself to my art. This is what brings me to that tricky foreign country, for which I have no visa: Moderation, Discipline. I don’t speak the language, and I don’t have a map.
I can pull tricks: I ban myself off AW, knowing that when I’m tired, I’ll just stare at the place and while away all hours of the day like some sort of drug addict. I participate or come up with contests — like the Tea Debacle, or earlier in the year when I just raced Lori by herself — because it gives me accountability to another person. Accountability is a huge trick for me, one that’s always worked more or less well. How to properly use it, I have no idea. Posting fiction online was always a great trick (and a common one, when I was younger, and I wonder if I have no built-in discipline now because so much of my stuff went online, and from the beginning of my public career, I used that as a crutch?) but it’s a trick that does me no good, when I’m writing a novel. I can hardly post that online. Recently, with God in the Machine, my output was huge every week (although exhausting, because there was no room for other projects, and it turned into a slog of poor planning too soon) because I had put myself and my story in the public eye, saying: I will give you this many words on this date, promise.
Someone always points out that producing 3,000 words a day, or a little more, is in no way a bad amount. And it isn’t. So long as I make more than seven words, I think I’m ahead of James Joyce (who cheated and just made words up sometimes). But while it may be a good amount, it’s not good enough for me. I brood and crave the speed all the time. If there is one topic of my writing which bothers me more than any other (and this is very nearly the only one; I no longer brood about my style, and with The Nondescript, I am not brooding about most other things. I have solved a huge number of problems that I always thought about, in recent days. A lot has just changed).
This post goes nowhere, in case you’re wondering. Like I said, it’s just me brooding over my morning pot of tea.