Today's Wednesday essay comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Patry Francis of Simply Wait.
EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT GETTING WORDS ON PAPER
by Patry Francis
I really hate to write this in terms of DOS and DON'Ts. It makes me think of the magazine that shows photographs of poor unsuspecting women on the street, caught wearing the wrong shoes, or too-tight jeans or some other heinous fashion crime, and labels them with a large DON'T. It then contrasts them with their trendy, perfectly coordinated sisters who've earned approving DOs. I don't know about you, but I've always identified with the DON'T people--and not just in fashion. But that's another story. What I really set out to write about here (before my A.D.D. got the better of me) is getting your daily writing done. And in spite of my aversion to the DOs and DON'Ts format, it really is a convenient way of looking at it.
DO set a goal. Whether it's a number of pages or words or a time limit, you need a goal. My personal method is a combination of both. I use a kitchen timer set to one hour. (Pretty pathetic, I know, but I can always do more if I'm inspired or ambitious, and you wouldn't believe how hard I have to fight with myself just to get that hour in. Or then again, if you're writers, you probably would believe it.) At the end of the hour, if I still haven't completed 1000 words, I keep going.
DO prepare. Go to the bathroom, turn off the phone, get your coffee or your chocolate, your shot of Jack Daniels or whatever you need to get you through the writing session because once you sit down you're not getting up until you've reached your goal.
DO make it part of your DAILY life. You eat every day, right? Probably run a comb through the hair or polish the bald head. Find time for at least a few hours sleep. And what about your personal vices? Whatever they may be, you can be reasonably sure they never take a holiday. If you smoke, for example, there's never a day when you just don't have time for a butt, and TV watchers (one of the worst vices in my book) rarely climb into bed without satisfying their yen with at least a 30 minute fix. Alcoholics rarely take a day off, and if they do, they make up for it by bingeing. Well, same goes for writing. If you're a writer, you need to give it at least the same respect you give your (other) addictions.
DO love what you're doing, even when the prose is limpid and nothing comes and the characters are as dead as the cows hanging from hooks in the butcher shop window. You're writing! You're learning! You're practicing! And I'm willing to bet that if you keep on going you'll write your way past those flat sentences and dead cows into a place that surprises you with its greenery.
DO keep going when you want to quit. Unless you've reached your goal, you're not going to get up no matter how desperate you are to escape your computer or your notebook or those flaccid cows you've created. They're yours, dammit, and you're staying with them till they lead you to that lush field described above.
DON'T think too much. You should have done that already. In fact, you've probably been contemplating this story for weeks, months, maybe even your whole life. Now is the time to release it like a thousand balloons.
DON'T check your word count or your timer or do anything that would stop the flow. Just open your hand and let those balloons go. You can count them up or admire their beauty as they float across the skylater.
DON'T let anyone interrupt you unless it's an emergency. Don't stop to get the mail, to answer the door, or to walk around the room in circles talking back to your recalcitrant characters.
DON'T edit, or check spelling or stop to look up a word. There will be time for all that later, too. Don't even take time to search for the right word in your head. Just write blankety blank in the middle of the sentence if its rhythm seems to demand an adjective or adverb that is not coming at the moment.
DON'T be afraid. And this is the big one, the summing up one, ultimately the only one. In the fashion magazine world of don'ts, this is the girl who not only has her thong poking out the top of her jeans and a big midriff roll protruding from her little bitty shirt, her hair is over-dyed, and oh-my-god (!) she's even wearing the wrong sunglasses...well, you get the idea...in the religion of the fashion magazine, she's on the road straight to hell. Well, that's the writer who approaches computer or notebook feeling afraid that she'll never write anything as good as the thing she wrote last week, or that if she actually puts some words down she might have to admit she's really not that talented after all. On the other hand, if she never writes anything at all, she can play the constipated genius for life. What she doesn't know if that she's on the well trod path to writer's hell, which is non productivity, lack of growth, the blank page, the unwritten book, the death bed whine: coulda, shoulda, didn't.
Patry Francis' stories have appeared in publications including Ontario Review, Antioch Review, Colorado Review and many others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. Her first novel, THE LIAR'S DIARY, will be published by Dutton in March, 2007.
Visit her BLOG
A recent story and interview of Patry's can be found in the fabulous literary magazine online, Smokelong Quarterly