Thursday, May 11, 2006

Writing Is Not For Sissies

I didn't post yesterday (bad Lili) because of work at the bookstore, tight deadlines, and panicked editing of the new fantasy novel. My apologies, all!

I wanted to write about characterization, or plotting, or about any of the hundred other things a writer has to worry about. I wanted to talk about voice, and pacing, and POV (I have a story about one of my students and a second-person draft that usually makes writers laugh 'til they cry.) But I am in a sorry mood this morning, my fellow Warner authors. So I have decided to write about something a little different: what writers have to deal with to get to the page.

Writing is hard bloody work. It's made no easier by the persistent perception that anyone can do it. Every idiot has an idea for a book. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say, "I've got this idea! You write it, and we'll split it fifty-fifty!" I would own my own publishing house by now. (Or maybe I'd invest in livestock. Not much money in books.)

Let's look at the sheer physical work of it. A novel is between seventy and a hundred thousand words. Each of those words must be typed by hand--carpal-tunnel style. Typing is hard on the back, it's hard on the wrists, it's bad for the digestion and it's sedentary work, so it makes my hips spread like butter. Short stories? You still type several drafts to get a submittable story. Poetry? Might be easier on the back, but it rips you open emotionally. What fun.

Then there's the research that has to be done if you're serious at all, and the printing-out of manuscripts. Which adds pure expense to the physical toil. Not to mention SASEs and shipping, and writing starts to look more like a hobby for the rich than an art form.

I write sitting in a papasan chair with my laptop on the ottoman in front of me. I've finished twenty-two novels that way (most of them lumps of coal, I am sorry to say.) I do get up every twenty minutes or so to stretch or minister to the little people in my household (more about that in a minute) But if a book's hot or the revisions are going well, I can be hunched there for hours. Which gives me raging heartburn as well as an aching back and a headache the size of Godzilla. Even someone in an ergonomic chair with a good keyboard can get hurt doing this sort of thing.

Writing is hard work. Don't let anyone tell you different. For someone to want fifty percent of anything you earn with a novel they just had an "idea" for is ridiculous.

The hardest thing, however, is not the physical work. It's time.

Yup, time. For some reason, the world seems to think one is eminently interruptable while writing. After all, it's just typing, right? So the phone begs for your attention. And the door. If one is a stay-at-home mum, the little people do require a spot of work during the day, and the housework can utilize guilt to call you away from a manuscript. God help you if you're at work--employers take a dim view of one polishing one's prose while on the clock. I can't really blame them, but I can't really blame the writer either. After all, writing is more satisfying than cubicle-work, and writers do have a powerful need to eat.

I write at home, so I can only complain about what I know. People assume they can drop in on me at a moment's notice, because I'm "home all day." I'm not "working." People complain because I don't answer the bloody phone all day, forgetting that my "work" is eight to ten hours of writing a day, period. "You're hard to get a hold of!" some wail.

Damn right. I'm too busy writing. But why is my time so less precious, and so prone to be thieved, because I'm writing?

Granted, there are a few friends who can and do stop by anytime. But I expect them to know that if I'm hunched over the keyboard and only grunt when addressed, they are more than welcome to the contents of the liquor cabinet, the snack drawer, or my coffee machine. They can settle down in the room with me and read a book, or listen to music. They do not expect me to drop in the middle of a scene and cater to them. That's why they're allowed in the door at any time.

My friend Jess Hartley tells the story of being at a signing and hearing, over and over again, "Oh, I have a book I'm going to write. When I have the time." It irritated her to no end, and irritates me too. Hey, I've always wanted to be a brain surgeon or a dentist. Someday when I have time I'll walk into a dentist's office or an operating theatre and pick up a drill or a scalpel. Because, you know, I've always wanted to. What? You mean there's more involved than poking a drill in someone's mouth? More involved than cracking a skull and slicing?

You don't say.

The first piece of advice I give aspiring writers remains, Never ever give up. I am thinking of adding a second piece. Value your writing time. It can so easily be eaten away. In order to write one must carve out a chunk of one's day, and defend that chunk with tooth and claw if necessary. Shut the phone off, don't answer the email, let the doorbell ring.

Because to us, it's not just writing. It's living, and one must never be too busy to live.


Diana Holquist said...

Brava! I'm with you...

...except for that bit about the papasan chair. (Okay, I had to look up what that craziness was on the internet...)

Good God, woman, it's a pile of fluff!

The next knock on your door is going to be Big Bird. He wants his nest back.

Then, the NEXT knock is going to be my chiropracter and she's going to bring you a proper chair and try to correct what that chair does to you.

No, wait. Where do you live? I'm coming over and I'm bringing a hard, proper wooden chair.

(Just leave that liquor cabinet open, okay?)

Robin T. Popp said...

I was supposed to post my blog today, but between day job, all the evening activities of three teens finishing up the school year and writing deadlines, I haven't had time to figure out what to blog about - so Lili - I'm feeling the pain with you and glad to know I'm not the only one.

Under the heading of crazy things writers will do to get their work done, I've been known to hop in my truck (Texas gal here) and drive to the high school on a weekend day and just sit in the otherwise empty parking lot, just so I can "hear" myself think and have stretches of uninterrupted time. So far, family and friends haven't discovered this trick of mine, so it's been working, but I figure I'll have to come up with something else once the temps start hitting the 90's and 100's.

Right now, it's the end of the work day and I'm off to some school function. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get to bed in time to do a little reading. And the book I'm reading now just happens to be WORKING WITH THE DEVIL. :-)

Best to all,

Lori Wilde said...

I hear ya! Just today a reporter called to see what had been happening with me since he did an article on me a few years back. I told him about the booktour I did last year. He said, I can't wait to do my booktour. I said, "Oh, when does your book come out?" Because last time we talked he was writing a book. He said, "I haven't finsihed the book yet, but I sure can't wait for that tour." I told him if getting a book tour seems magicalthen he hasn't been working hard enough. Dude doesn't have a clue.

Bethany said...

Oh Do I Feel You! And no one gets it. Ever. It is like this sad thing, "Hey I always wanted to write a book. I have some good ideas."

I nod. Smile. Then think to myself, "If you haven't sat down to write it yet, you never will." It takes writing your fingers to the bloody bone to make it.

GREAT post.

Diane Perkins said...

Hey, Lili, I write like that, not in a papasan chair but on my couch with an ottoman and my laptop...

I also encourage those people who say they want to write a book. I say, just sit down and write it all the way through to the finish. Don't worry about whether it is good enough, just finish it. You can fix it later.

Because for years I would joke (even to myself) that the only other thing I'd like to do besides being a mental health social worker was be a romance novelist. Maybe somebody else is like me and just needs a little push, which I got when a friend went back to school to get a degree in Creative Writing and made me think it was possible for me too. I didn't get the degree, but I got my dream!


Lili Saintcrow said...

Wow! Seems I hit a nerve. *grin*

I have my laptop on a lapdesk type thing, which balance on my lap as I sit cross-legged in the papasan chair. I actually have pretty good posture, though since the car accident my back has been spasming like there's no tomorrow. No worries, I'm not hurting myself. Much.

It just burns me, this perception of writing as something so easy any idiot with an "idea" can do it; plus, the implication that my time isn't valuable because I'm "just writing." Both assumptions just drive me right up the ever-loving wall. I'm glad other writers feel the same way--it's nice to know I'm not the only one!