by Ryan Boudinot
I get asked a lot of questions about how to develop good writing habits. Mostly this boils down to the idea of keeping a schedule. Depending on what stage I’m in with whatever novel I happen to be working on, I’ve found that my writing schedule changes. When I’m writing a first draft I tend to parachute in at odd times, get some work done, then swiftly exit. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is; if I have an extra 45 minutes while waiting for my daughter to get out of ballet practice I’ll take it. I should note, too, that writing a first draft by hand in a notebook gives one maximum flexibility. A notebook isn’t nearly as conspicuous as a laptop, and you can sit anywhere you want, not just near a power outlet.
Later, during the many rounds of revision, I find that my schedule becomes far more regimented. I’ve gotten up at five in the morning, written during lunch breaks at day jobs, and written every night after the kids are in bed. The primary challenge during revision is getting over my frequent bouts of revulsion over what I’ve written, the overwhelming and monolithic realization about What Is Left To Be Done. To overcome this unpleasantness, I tell myself to pick a place and work on it a little bit, making a few sentences incrementally better.
There’s a certain fascism to a lot of writing advice that makes me bristle. There’s an almost athletic insistence that one must stick your butt in that chair and write for six hours every day, loser and to keep that pen moving even if you have nothing to say. A lot of books read like they were written like this, under duress, with daily productivity goals posted above computer monitors, in some sort of vast writing factory.
I think we need to get back to talking about inspiration. Peter Orner, in his column on The Rumpus recently addressed this over-emphasis on word count, writing, “What if people wrote less and paid attention more?”
This might seem funny advice to pass along to a bunch of people [Goddard students] who are obligated to turn in a packet every three weeks, but I think it bears discussion. At what point does a writer’s work suffer when they retreat from the world of experiences and obsess over churning out pages? How does one pay attention as a writer? What does what we choose to pay attention to say about us as artists, as people?