Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chatty Today

I am chatty today. Soon I will get dressed, go to the bank and library, and then write in a coffee house.

I was at 11,000 words on the Lydia Duluth story on September 1. I now (20 days later) have something like 18,000 words. The story is done, except for a wrap-up scene. Right now, I'm going over the printed-out manuscript, making corrections and cutting material that is not needed, though it's still a long story.

I've been averaging 350 words a day. This is a good-sized novel a year. For some reason, I have always counted in pages, not words, estimating 250 words a page. 350 words a day is 510 pages after a year, which is an amazing amount of writing for me.

John Scalzi has a long post on writing on his blog. Here is part of it.

If you want to be a writer, than be a writer, for god’s sake. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t require that much effort on a day to day basis. Find the time or make the time. Sit down, shut up and put your words together. Work at it and keep working at it. And if you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do.

I mentioned this to my friend Ruth Berman, and she said, "This isn't true. There are times when I am simply not able to write."

Ruth is a fine poet, prolific compared to me, and also a fine writer of short fiction, though she has written more poetry than fiction in recent years. She mostly publishes in literary magazines, though she has also published poetry and fiction in Asimov's, among other SF places.

I would call Scalzi a production writer, producing novels the way a production weaver produces scarves and a production potter produces pots and mugs. Like such artists, he has a workmanlike and practical attitude toward what he does.

I would say that Ruth and Scalzi are two different kinds of writers, and that what's true for one may not be true for the other.

I am on the Ruth end of the writing spectrum. Scalzi is able to make a living from writing. I cannot, and I have always been the main support of my own personal household. I think there's no question that working a day job has cut into my writing time and energy. Often, I have been able to write in spite of the day job. But as I aged and as my jobs became more interesting and demanding, I wrote less and less. Now that I am unemployed or retired, take your pick, I am writing more.

Like Ruth, I have often had the experience of not being able to write. Wherever the writing comes from is empty. I have to wait till it refills. Could I force the writing to come? I'm not sure. I know there are times when the words come with difficulty, and they are dead on the page.

Over the past 40 years, I have averaged something like 28,000 words a year. This is one novella or several short stories a year. After three or four years of work, I have a novel. My longest novel, A Woman of the Iron People, took 13 years instead of 7, because I took a long break in the middle and wrote another novel. I did this because I simply did not know where Woman was going.

Could I have written more if I'd been more disciplined? Maybe, and maybe I would have produced pages full of dead words, and stories that were not -- ultimately -- about anything.

What I'm trying to do when I write is create a work of art that is distinctive and personal, that says something I've never said before, that pulls as deeply as possible from whoever I am. I want the words to be alive. I want the story to have ideas that are seriously considered. I want it to be my best effort at describing what it's like to be human and live in this universe. Yes, I want my writing to be entertaining. But I also want it to be serious art that tries to meet the standards of the very best art.

When I write something that doesn't feel alive, that doesn't feel like my best effort, I trash it or put it away till I feel I can finish it.

Am I saying Scalzi doesn't do this? I have no idea, since I have read very little of his work.

I think he's wrong when he says writing isn't hard. I've done it a long time, and I find it quite difficult.


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