Monday, August 04, 2008

Routine and discipline for writers

Talent, creativity and a way with words are all important qualities for a writer. But if you want to make a living from your writing, more than anything else you'll need discipline. Being a professional means hitting deadlines, writing to specification, and sometimes it means routine. If you've got an 80,000 word novel to write, there's a lot of typing involved. That means bum on seat and staying there, foregoing more exciting things for your career.

It kind of sounds counter-intuitive, talking about creativity to order. Some people expect creative types to be wacky and wild flakes, on the edge mavericks who walk to a different beat. In my experience, the more touch by genius someone is, the flakier they tend to be. That's not always true, of course, but it does reflect my years of experience working with creatives. Genius defies deadlines and still gets another chance, because it's genius.

For most of us making a living from writing, there are days when you have to grind it out. Not every word is perfect, nor does it need to be - that's why we have rewriting. But you can't rewrite what doesn't exist. There are times I've felt frozen at the start of a project, not wanting to sully a page with any attempt to transport the perfect story from my imagination to some decidedly imperfect version on the computer screen on page. Get over it.

No first draft is perfect - hell, no final draft is perfect. Everything you ever write is a work in progress, awaiting the next polish, the next rewrite. Everything can be improved. Some canny sod once said, 'art is never finished, only abandoned'. I'm not claiming what I do is any work of art, but every story must finally be abandoned, unleashed upon the world, sent forth for feedback. Give it a chance to be seen and seen if it can be improved.

I've a new project to write this month. Can't type about it here, due to contractual obligations and non-disclosure clauses. I'm also trying to develop my second stab at this year's Red Planet Prize competition, and there's a feature I'm itching to write. Of these, the last is just for myself, an idea that's been nagging away at the back of my imagination since I walked past a particular painting in New Zealand four months ago and it triggered something.

But my paying job for this month is the new project, and my deadline is September 1st. So today I need to establish a routine for August and inject some discipline into my writing efforts. It may not be glamorous or exciting, involve festivals, plane flights or meeting important people from the industry - but it's a vital part of the job. All the networking in the world don't mean a thing if you don't back it up with words. A writer writes. Onwards.

1 comment:

Kevin Levell said...

David,
Your advice applies to any kind of creation... and it's kind of how I imagine having a child to be too -

Hard work, love, dedication and a lot of clearing up when things get messy. To succeed, you have to keep on trying even if it's not going how you imagined it would.
You do your best, but your idiosyncrasies are what screws it up (or indeed, that which makes it interesting).
It's nice when it surprises you or shows you something you hadn't seen for yourself yet. ...eventually you need to let it go and fend for itself, even if you think it's not quite ready!
Whatever happens though, you should be proud of it!