Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Small Steps | Part 3: Write When You Want

Ever since I started writing professionally back in 1993, I've read several books on writing in an effort to improve my craft. A fair majority of them have preached that if you want to be a writer or an author, you need to write every day.


Writing is not like working in a retail store, or in an office, where the day is basically made up of one mechanical task after another. Writing is an art, a trade, and a craft.

Anyone can write, but not everyone can be a writer. It takes some level of innate talent, a fair amount of education, and a level of intensity that, let's face it, is sorely underdeveloped in most.

To be clear, I'm not disparaging retail workers or office employees. As someone who has, in the past, done both, I know those jobs can be tough, and carry their own unique requirements of skill and effort.

Ultimately, however, those positions are very structured. You go to work. You do your job. You get paid. You go home. Wash, rinse, repeat. Creativity is often frowned upon in favor of sticking to the policies set in place by management.

Writing, on the other hand, is a lot like self-employment. Well, in truth, it is self-employment. You fade or flourish based upon your harvest of ideas.

A farmer doesn't gather every day; he spends time sowing seed and tending crops, too. Comparatively, writers shouldn't feel compelled to write every day. They need time to develop new ideas and nurture them.

Furthermore, when you're self-employed, you have a lot of hats to wear! You have to do research for projects, manage your budget, self-promote, make time to edit and revise, and generally keep your personal and/or family life organized. All of those things take time and energy, both of which are finite. Forcing yourself to write while ignoring other responsibilities will seldom result in your best work.

My Old Friend, Inspiration

Now, if you enjoy writing every day, then I certainly would never discourage that. More power to you! Nor would I encourage writers to procrastinate to the point that they do nothing with the blank pages in front of them.

What I'm cautioning against is the attitude found amongst many aspiring writers (and writing "teachers") who think they must churn out a certain number of words every day to be successful, or be taken seriously, or both.

We Planted a Tree
Ten years growing.
In a recent presentation for children's book writers, I listened to Diane Muldrow, author and editor for famed Golden Books, talk about inspiration.

While Diane is a huge advocate of having writers hone their craft as much as possible, she noted that it takes time to develop a great story. For example, she said that her new book, We Planted a Tree, slowly but surely took shape in her mind over the course of ten years! Eventually it all came flowing out, and she instinctively knew it was going to be a good book.

Notice that Diane didn't force it. Ten years ago she knew the idea had potential, but it was still sprouting. She worked on other projects, lived her life, and continued to grow the concept until eventually it blossomed on its own. (Yes, I am having fun with all these plant puns.)

If We Planted a Tree had been written and released ten years ago, I doubt it would have been as perfect a story as it is now. And believe me, it's a truly wonderful children's book, made even more fabulous thanks to the exquisite illustrations by Bob Staake.

So writers, please don't feel it's necessary to write 5,000 words a day, or 3,000, or even 1,000. Write what you want, when you want. When it comes to the creative process, don't feel you have to pound away at one project or story until it's done. Be flexible, not rigid. If a story isn't taking shape the way you'd like, shelve it and re-focus your efforts on something else that inspires or intrigues you. That intensity will come through in your writing.

Good luck!

Follow-Up Note: We're coming up on November when National Novel Writing Month kicks off. If you have an idea you've been anxious to put down in words, then NaNoWriMo is certainly a good time to do it. You'll have the support of over 100,000 participating writers across the world, all focused on a similar goal. Just remember that the point of NaNoWriMo is to encourage and foster a love of writing. As the organizers so eloquently put it, writers should value "enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft."

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