Crafting Your Writing Life, Part VI: Your Writing Muscles

September 12, 2007

Writing is like anything else at which one strives to do well – a mixture of both art and craft. That means it needs to be practiced regularly, especially if you want this to be your vocation and not your hobby.

Life will always get in the way, and there will be days when you can’t write. There will be days you’ve earned the right to play hookey or go on vacation or do something to refill the creative well.

But, for the most part, writers sit down and do it every day. They don’t wait until the Muse whacks them upside the head, and they don’t use their families or jobs as excuses for not writing. They approach it like a job, sometimes a second or third (if they’re working mothers) job. Time will never magically appear – you have to make it, wrestle it, steal it.

If you write a page and then wait a week to write another half a page – you might complete something in five or six years, but it will be inconsistent. If you spend thirty minutes a day, even writing a single page, there will be a flow, and you’ll see that, as though it was a physical workout, you’ll get a flow and a rhythm, and pretty soon it will be a page and a half in thirty minutes, two pages, etc. You will build your stamina. You’ll be able to sit down and get into “writing head” – especially if you try to do it at the same time every day – and jump back into your creative world more and more easily. The first few weeks are tough, but once you’re in the rhythm, you’ll miss it if you skip it. Just like working out.

Look at the careers of Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Jill Shalvis, Yasmine Galenorn. All of these women are professional writers. They publish regularly. Jill and Yasmine both blog about their processes. Jill’s humorous take on balancing her writing commitments with her family life are an inspiration to anyone trying to balance it all. Yasmine’s approach to her wonderfully imaginative worlds is magnificently pragmatic in order to allow her to create those worlds – she puts her butt in the chair and gets it done, without excuses.

Read interviews with Janet and Nora, or read Janet’s book How I Write. Janet’s entire family is involved her writing business. She is in her office a good eight hours a day, while her family runs the rest of the household and the business, such as the website and the other practicalities. Her job is to write. Nora gets to her desk and gets it done, too.

Another writer who discussed her process recently – I’m sorry, the name escapes me – talks about how she writes five pages per day, even if she’s doing a book tour. She simply gets up earlier and does it at the desk in the hotel room, and makes sure the PR people book events later in the day.

The biggest divide between writers and aspiring writers is the actual writing. Writers write. Period. They learn to draw boundaries. They learn to say no. They attract supportive people (which does NOT mean “yes men”) and cut saboteurs out of their lives.

Also, if you’re an unpublished writer, you have the luxury of excuses. Once you’re under contract – if you want to keep getting contracts – you have to cough it up with high quality on time NO MATTER WHAT. We no longer live in a world where most writers can turn out a book every five years. Most publishers expect a book a year, and, especially in the books lumped into the “romance” category, several books a year now seems to be the norm.

This is not a vocation for sissies. You need to have the courage to write what you believe, love, and are passionate about, and you have to have the commitment to make it happen.

–Devon Ellington


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