My writing has had a big problem the past couple of years, entirely of my own making. It’s nearly sunk me as a writer. I’ve slowed way down in my writing.
Now why is that a problem? Well, there’s the big obvious reason, which is that I’m a full-time stay-at-home dad and writer, and if I’m not writing, then I’m not doing much am I?
There’s another problem, though, the big one, and that’s what I want to talk about for a second. It is what I perceive as the real vital quality of the writing advice that you should write every day.
The problem with not writing every day, as I have been failing to do, is that it eliminates your ability to play and to have effortless fun with your writing, once in awhile. It makes your writing sessions expensive, to use the metaphor I’m gonna run with in this post.
What happens is that you only get to write once a week, say. So when you sit down to write, there’s a lot of pressure on that one writing session. You HAVE TO GET STUFF DONE. There is a LOT OF WORK and you cannot fuck around.
What this did to me was couple up with my tendency not to write multiple drafts of my work (everything I’ve published is maybe draft 1.5, with rare exceptions) (this is not because I’m so gifted I don’t need drafts, it’s just how I work. I wind up doing a lot of the work in my head first, before I even write the story. I dunno. It works for me.)
Anyway, those two aspects coupled in my head like a bog I had sunk up to my waist in. Suddenly, every time I sat down to write, I had to get all the words exactly right, because there was no time for messing around. AND I had to get certain pieces of work done. The writing becomes expensive. You can’t play.
Here’s an example.
Despite my talk about mostly getting it right the first time with my stories, I have one story that I’m seriously on draft 12 of. I don’t know what the hell it is about the story, but I can’t get it working.
Now the problem is, I was working on this story every writing session I had earlier this year…but combining the busyness of kids, my own lack of energy, the chaotic life of someone moving, and general discouragement (and depression. Let’s be honest for a split-second here and then move on rapidly) I was only writing maybe once a week or so. I spent the rest of the time very grumpy and unhappy at my own lack of writing.
When I sat down to work, it was on that one story. I had a pretty good idea that the draft I was working on wasn’t working, but I wasn’t positive yet.
Now the problem is, I was writing so infrequently, I didn’t want to explore a draft that was maybe busted, you see what I mean? As a result, I just stopped working on the story. I had to figure it out in my head first. I had to get it absolutely right before I began writing it. When you’re writing so infrequently, you can’t afford to blow two writing sessions or what-have-you exploring a story idea that may not work, that may not go anywhere. Those two sessions are half your writing time for that whole month!
This is why it’s important to write every day. Supposing I sunk three days of work into that story, then decided it doesn’t work. Well hell, that’s three days out of one week, there’s four more days JUST in that week. It’s not such a big deal.
Writing every day cheapens the writing, and that’s important. It’s the difference between carrying a snowball up a hill each day, or waiting for it to turn into a gigantic glacier you can’t budge. It brings back the joy and ease to the work, takes away some of the intimidation. It means you can write something for fun and put it on the internet, for example, because so what? It’s a tiny piece of writing time out of the vast acres of writing time you have.
(Also, when your work is that huge and expensive each time you sit down, it becomes impossible — at least for me — to work on something long like a novel. The mere idea is exhausting. What if you work on it for three years of miserable once-a-week high-pressure writing sessions and then it doesn’t work? How depressing. That’ll kill the desire to write right there. Just thinking about novel writing, or watching my friends produce a ton of work, was depressing to me.)
This is what I’m working on (and why I’ve suddenly begun blogging more frequently). I’m finding little tricks to write a lot more, thus cheapening it all and making it easier to work. Blogging more is one trick. Writing articles for BookRiot has been a godsend (at least for me. The powers that be at BookRiot probably look at each other ruefully over drinks and go “he was your idea. Seriously, this is a disaster…) (I’m kidding, I hope).
Once upon a time, I switched to handwriting all my work because it not only let me focus on the words themselves (a godsend) but also didn’t feel as much like WORK as sitting at a computer did. These days, I’m moving back to the computer entirely, producing work as fast as I can in an effort to slop it off without sucking. Producing cheap work very fast.
Cheap, but still good. You know, like those weird off-brand chips that are inexplicably delicious.
(seriously. Off-brand Nacho Cheese chips are the best.)