8.11.2016

The Daily Grind

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “I’m writing a novel.” To be polite, I’ll ask what it’s about, and often I’m delighted by how original the concept is. Yet somewhere along the line I always ask one key question: How often do you write? The most common answer is: “When I feel inspired.”

I’ll be frank: that doesn’t work for me. I would like to think that I dwell in an exalted precinct where its denizens tap into inspiration with great frequency.  After all, I am either writing or editing books every single day of my life. I am well aware, though, that true inspiration is a fleeting, elusive minx. In fact, to put a number on it, I average two days out of five when I can genuinely say that the Muse is making my hand flow.

How does a fledgling author fight these odds? If you write only two days a week—that is, when you feel inspired—that novel is going to be decades in the making. More likely, you will give up entirely because you are so seldom connected to that pulse of creativity. Make no mistake: life wants to intervene. Writing is hard work, and many days you may not feel adequate to the task. When you’re stumped, when the words just won’t come, you can be easily distracted. If little Harry pops his head in the door and asks if you’d sit with him and watch Sesame Street, you may very well greet him like a golden-winged savior. “Are you kidding? I’d love to!”

What’s the first rule of writing? Keep your hand close to the pen. If you’re not having a great day, remember that you must go through the troughs in order to scale the peaks. Great thoughts about your book will come to you, with great frequency, if you keep the book’s myriad subjects revolving in your mind. Yet when you are not thinking about it, the pipeline to that creative fountain runs dry. You may have a stray thought here and there, but if you added up all those sporadic eureka moments, you probably wouldn’t fill two pages. You can encourage the Muse to come visit by staying in touch with her. The cream of the crop means you have a crop you tend every day.

Exercise: Set up a schedule for yourself. You’re making a declaration that your creative time is important to you. For example, over the course of 20 years of commuting into New York for a full-time job, I tried to get up every morning at 6:00 and write for an hour. Is that the ideal way to write? Not at all. But it represents the type of commitment you need to make. When you adopt a schedule, you are laying a concrete path for all those dreams.

“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”
—Ernest Hemingway

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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