Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Butt In Chair: My Sophisticated Approach to Writing Novels

A friend said to me today "You're a machine!" after I told him about my writing schedule and routine.

My immediate response: "Not at all! I'm an organic, spontaneous creative entity!" or you know, something a little less pretentious than that ;)

But really? I heard Jane Yolen's advice about writing that has been my guiding light since I started writing six years ago: BUTT IN CHAIR. So I figured I'd take a pic of my butt in the chair at my favorite coffee shop:
Sometimes I think the hardest part of being a writer isn't coming up with the plot or figuring out characterization--it's getting into the daily routine of actually writing! Especially after any kind of break from it, getting into it again can cause... let's call it resistance, shall we?

I hadn't written anything since about March because I was finishing a heavy semester of grad school. Then about three weeks ago, I finally found myself with the space and time to write... and I stared at the blinking icon in the Word document wondering, How the hell did I do this before?!? So I went back to the basics: Butt in chair, outlining, 500-1000 words a day, and go from there.

Then I'd meet my goal everyday and feel the most amazing satisfaction. I'd accomplished the fearsome duty for the day. Then the next day I push the word count a little higher. Maybe one day I only write 600 words. The next I try to make up for it by writing 1500. The thing is: I'm good at it. I've always been killer at self-discipline. I make goals, I meet goals. Hence the label by my friend: me as machine.

Some of this determination and routine comes from just being a mother, I think. The baby cries in the middle of the night, you HAVE to go pick them up. EVERY SINGLE MORNING they are up at 6, every single evening they are complaining about bedtime, and so needy of your attention every moment in between. And you JUST DO IT, there's no way out, no excuse, no one else to do it for you, no matter how tired or stressed out you are yourself. You warm up the bottle in the middle of the night. You just do it, end of story, and rarely does anyone thank you for it.

Thus with writing: you sit down and write your five hundred words. And a first draft starts to slowly be built up. People talk about writing like this poetic thing, or having a muse, or waiting to feel "in the moment" before they write. But for me, first drafts are often not very magical. They are rough and ugly and I'm getting plot out and dialogue drafts, but it's not going to be magical and moving until I get to Edit Land with this draft. But you can't edit what's not there to begin with! Poets might deal with a different can of worms, but we aim to be novelists. Many of us aim even to write a series of novels.

And it all circles back around to that oh so elegant advice I met and have stuck with for six years: Butt In Chair.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. 1,000 words a day. 3 months later, you have yourself a novel. It might be a crappy novel, but that's what second drafts are for.

    It's not easy sometimes. But it's always simple.

    (rockin' sleeves!)