Don’t Romance It
Did you think that writers hide away in garrets with keyboards, ashtrays, and emptied bottles? That was the image I had when I learned about the lives of writers like Hemingway and Flaubert. I liked the romance of La Boheme and the life of the artist. It didn’t take me long to learn that the starving artist act wasn’t going to get me published, and it wasn’t going to produce much usable work, either. There isn’t much romance to the writer’s life on a day to day basis. There is magic on good days, but mostly writing requires diligence, not dalliance.
November is National Novel Writing Month. Devoting a whole month to writing every day isn’t just sticking your toe in the writing game — it represents at least a whole foot. At the website for the project (nanowrimo.org), you can get page counts and all sorts of prompts and guides for grinding out a novel — a month should do it, right? The task master attitude of pages per day will surely remove any hint of the romance of waiting for the muse to inspire you. You may have to mug her daily. No doubt you can develop a good writing habit in a month, but a whole novel?
Still there is something a little romantic in thinking that we all have one good novel in us and that the novel can be produced in 30 days. Kathryn Eastburn thinks it is typically American to think so in her essay, What Can’t Be Faked. She goes on to talk about a novelist who takes ten years between really good books. That sounds much too long to be romantic. Most marriages don’t last that long.
So how do you produce writing? I suggest that you set aside any ideas you’ve collected about how the process should work, and find out how your process works. Perhaps taking on the discipline of NaNoWriMo will give you some idea of how you work with a strict schedule. You have to get yourself to the computer or paper somehow. Don’t romance the idea of being a writer. Life never looks like art, even when you are trying to create art. Writing often looks like you are doing nothing at all, more akin to Rodin’s The Thinker than anything else. Find out what you look like as a writer, and do that more often.