Saturday, July 20, 2013

Butt in chair

Much has been said about what it takes to write a book. There are opinions on character and storyline, protagonists and antagonists, internal conflict, emotional and concrete goals, and on and on. But it doesn't mean a thing unless you sit down and actually write.

Writing can be hard and sometimes it doesn't work. That is what email and the Internet and Words With Friends are for: to give the brain a break when the writing isn't happening. It’s an easy distraction to fall into.

There's always your other life, the one without the imaginary friends. Demands takes precedence over writing sometimes. And/or too many things pop up that need attending to. You'd think a school teacher on summer vacation would have two hours a day to dedicate to writing. Not so.

There’s writing related tasks that get in the way of sitting at a keyboard. Sometimes you need authenticity so you check things out on Wikipedia. Or your writer’s group has something due.

Still, it comes down to sitting down and writing. That means priorities must be established, sacrifices made, schedules rearranged. And it comes down to dedicating yourself to the story.

Writer's Digest had a recent Peter Stenson article on this, called The 90-Day Novel: 5 Simple Steps to a First Draft. The first thing is to establish a habit, to make daily writing part of your routine. Stenson says it best: "Make a deal with yourself and your long-dead writing heroes: I’ll write 90 days in a row, no matter what, even with seven presentations at work and kids crying and a resentful spouse alone in bed. Give yourself the three-month gift of an hour or two of daily writing. Be alone. Sit down and lock the door. Disable your internet connection. Write one word after another. Every day. For 90 days straight."

Easier said than done, but the logic is good.

Stenson discussed the nature of a rough draft and expectations to have for it. He ended with advice on how to give yourself over to a novel. Quoting again, he says to “allow yourself to space out at work. Allow yourself to toss and turn in the middle of the night. Allow yourself to become selfish with your mental obsessions. Forty-minute showers as you walk through imaginary towns in the year 2050? Yes. Forgetting to respond when somebody asks you a question because you’re unsure if your lead character’s mother actually dies when she falls off her horse? Bingo. Allow yourself to think like your characters. To talk like them. To imagine them riding shotgun in your Civic while they pick the dirt from underneath their nails. Just don’t fight the natural result of intense immersion into your writing world.

But mostly to get a novel written, you need to plant your butt in a chair and write.

(This article also posted at

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