Tuesday, June 05, 2007

If Only

It’s every author’s dream: the freedom to dedicate hours and hours a day, day after day, to writing.

I used to think, if only I didn’t have to write this report on that stupid abattoir in Qatar… if only I didn’t spend most of the day riding herd on a couple of preschoolers… if only I didn’t spent hours and hours chauffeuring teenagers to school and lessons and practices… if only I could just sit down and write, I’d get so much more done!

Maybe for some people it works that way. For me? Not as much as I’d expected.

The problem was, I soon realized that all those hours I once spent doing other things were not really wasted, writing-wise. All the while I was building Lego castles and watching swim practice, I was also fleshing out my characters’ personalities, developing their backstories, imagining scenes. (You’re right; I couldn’t do that and write reports on Qatari abattoirs or South Australian grain production; that kind of distraction sucks.) But in the old days, when I was finally able to grab an hour or two to sit down at the computer—or with pen and paper—I knew exactly what I wanted to write. Once most of my day was devoted to writing, I found I had to do my thinking at the computer. It was a huge change. Not only that, but writing shifted from being something I did to relax and became something I did to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Another big change. Because no matter how much you enjoy something, once its success becomes vitally important to your children’s future, it’s inevitable that your attitude towards it is going to alter.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. What actually started me to thinking about this was a blog entry over at Razored Zen . Charles is a university prof taking the summer off to write. For him, it’s bliss. But he has also very quickly discovered that spending all day, day after day, at a computer can take a physical toll. The fact is, almost every full-time writer I know has neck and shoulder problems. Which started me to thinking, What are some of the other changes that come when writing shifts from being a hobby or an ambition, and becomes a profession?


Shauna Roberts said...

Perhaps writer's block becomes less of a problem once a person has to write? Newspaper journalists and magazine writers rarely seem to suffer writer's block, perhaps because we must produce something, anything, on a regular basis. Whether it's good, bad, or indifferent matters less than that it's on time and on topic.

Your post brings up a worry I've had as I imagine a future as a full-time fiction writer. Right now, a lot of necessary story marination takes place on the days I do my pay-the-bills writing. How did you learn to speed up that process so that you could write every day? Did it start to take place more in the conscious mind instead of in the subconscious?

liz fenwick said...

Money? :-)

cs harris said...

Shauna, I still have writers block in the sense that sometimes a scene simply will not gel. I don't feel that I can just push on and write crap because I worry about reviews, sales, future contract renewals. I suspect magazine and newspaper writers don't get writers block because they're dealing with facts (or at least pseudofacts).

I don't think my marination period has speeded up. It's why my output hasn't increased as much as it should. I now spend "writing" time thinking. Yeah, more at the conscious level than the subconscious.

And you're right, Liz--actually earning money validates the process enormously.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I spent much of my life working on newspapers and general magazines. It became vital after I'd left London, shifted to New Zealand and had all the bill-paying associated with buying a home and raising a family. NZ had no genre-fiction industry. When I "retired" from the journalism, in my late fifties, I went back to writing fiction seriously.

I find myself spending large parts of the day worrying about and looking after my savings/"investments", plus doing household chores and maintenance. You can't escape them when you work from home and they're constantly in your face.

Another slice of time I devote to promotion. I've not allowed this to be solely "self-promotion", which would be too limited and boring to give satisfaction, and I cover my publisher's western fiction line and the genre at large. I've found a few of the writers are as dedicated and keen as myself, and pitch in with valuable contributions. Many others seem to have no interest whatsoever. It could be they're happy to leave publicity to the publisher, who apparently can do little. That, or they're just too busy writing!

The process of writing the books isn't, for me, speeded up so much as made possible in a way it might not be when you have a full-time day (or night) job.

Steve Malley said...

CS, spend as much writing time thinking as you like! Nobody says those hours must be filled with the sound of the keyboard begging for mercy.

Remember what Truman Capote said about Jack Kerouac's work:

That's not writing, that's typing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good point about the "thinking" time that chores and errands give us. Today I'd hit a block on an essay and then ended up having to run into Abita Springs for something. On the way back the solution occurred to me. I'm still pretty blissful, though.

Farrah Rochon said...

Candice, your post is so incredibly timely. Unfortunately, today I changed from being a part time writer to full time, at least temporarily. My plans are to produce a certain amount of pages. I've tried this before, and while it didn't work as well as I would have liked, I'm hoping the fact that I'm now published and have more of a chance of making additional sales will be incentive to be more productive.