Like love or shingles

Everyone claims to have a system.

They set aside an hour every morning, after feeding the cat and having coffee.

They set aside two hours in the evening, after the kids are asleep.

They go full-Asimov and just write all day, barely gathering any new experiences to reflect on. (I’m sure their parents/partners love that.)

When people ask me how I wrote my novels, I’ve found there are two ways to understand the question, depending on who’s asking.

If it’s a reader, the question is, “How do you stand writing more than half a page of anything? Writing drives me crazy.”

My answer: Thank God. I don’t need the competition.

If it’s a fellow writer, the question is, “Am I normal?”

My answer: No. You are not. But it has nothing to do with your writing method.

Write whenever you feel like it. Write when you should. But don’t brand yourself a failure if you don’t write every day. The only things I do every day are breathe and despair. (It’s a tendency of mine, and I just accept it now.)

It’s hard to write if I’m having a family problem, or I’m exhausted from work, or I’d just rather have a beer and chat with a friend. That’s a better use of time, even for a writer, sometimes. If you’re in a pit — really down there among the toenail clippings and stomach lining — what you write will probably be self-absorbed drivel. It’s like dancing while drunk. Sure, you think you’re great at it. But to anyone sober who’s watching, or reading, not so much.

If you’re a writer, it’ll come back. It always does. Real writers write because they have to, not because they’re earning some kind of cosmic merit badge, or checking something off the Big List of Life:

Finish School
Get married
Reproduce
Write novel
See Paris

Sure, it helps if you write every day — especially while writing a novel. Otherwise you lose your rhythm and forget stuff. But outside of that? It’s OK to chill. If you’re really a writer, it’ll come back, like love or shingles.

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5 thoughts on “Like love or shingles”

  1. when i ask ‘how did you write your novels?’ its more along the same lines as asking ‘how does gravity work?’… theyre both black-magic voodoo to me. actually i have a significantly stronger understanding of gravity than i do of ‘where creativity comes from’

  2. MLD, you’re welcome!

    Tim, I find that very interesting. I can’t say I understand creativity, I can only say that I’ve experienced it.

  3. I have no system whatsoever. I write when I feel like it. Sometimes I feel like writing, but what I write still sucks and has to go to the bin.

    But when I (try to) force myself to write, it’s always bad and horrible.

    I’d say instead of “write every day” it should be “set aside time for writing every day”. If you don’t write, just stare out the window thinking about how your story will go, or do research, or edit, or read someone else’s stuff.

    All of those things are part of good writing.

  4. Good points, especially “read someone else’s stuff.” That’s the most important thing you can do next to writing.

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