Monday, September 29, 2008

How We Do It, Two Writers Talk Technique

Here is another installment of my column with Clea Simon. (For my response, check out her great blog. We're going to be posting once a month on each other's blogs about issues that mean something to writers. (This month we have a double column and will be posting about the "thousand words a day" rule, too.)

When I taught high school, the kids all thought that writers all had beach houses and tons of money. (Why then, did they think I taught them?) Most of the writers I know have to have other jobs, and it isn;t always an easy mix. You need incoe, but you cant be so bogged down in work that you have no time to write.

Here's Clea's take on the subject (and thank you, Clea!):

Blame the Feds. I’m no more broke than usual, but on Monday I took on another quickie editing assignment, copyediting a calendar. It’s due at the end of the week, and money being tight, I’m tempted to drop everything and get to it.

But if I do, I won’t work on my work-in-progress. And not only do I have a deal with Caroline that we each try to churn out at least 1,000 words each workday, but I have a deal with myself. I left an editing job at the end of 1999 because I wanted to focus on my writing. And even though the journalism, the book reviews, the odd magazine assignments, and the occasional bits of editing pay more – and pay more promptly – I can’t let this work take over. To do that would be to abandon my dream.

Do some authors write full time? Sure, many. But the vast majority of us are stuck in this creative time share. It’s hard! Back when I first tried writing fiction, I had a job that started at noon, so I spent each morning at my computer. I was so disciplined: I made a pot of coffee and sat down and wrote. But that was before email, before I was totally freelance, before I had a mortgage and a million other bills – and, besides, I never finished that novel.

These days, I try to stick to the same schedule. But I can’t always. On Mondays, for example, I have to pull together my Globe column for the week,. That often means doing phone interviews, and I take those whenever I can get them. Eight a.m., noon, whenever. On Tuesdays, well... you get the idea.

I like the idea of writing first thing, before my super critical superego takes over. When I can’t, I try to envision the day in two-hour blocks. I know if I can find two hours, I can get the rhythm, I can get into it. Some days, of course, I can give myself more than that. On the good days, I can’t stop – and when I do finally come up for air, I wonder where the next check is going to come from. But that’s another story, for another day.


Clea Simon said...

So glad we did this today, Caroline! I've got to hound someone for a check that was already late but was supposed to arrive last week "for sure." Grrr....

and, yeah, have spent the morning thus far on my Globe column.

Jeff Lyons said...

C & C:

What a great post. I too am fascinated by process and how writers do what they (we) do. It’s frightening how easy it is not to write and to do other things instead: phone calls, chatting (skype), email, “research”, sleep, etc. I do a ton of editorial work. Often multiple daily deadlines (Caroline, you know of what I speak), and while I curse it sometimes, the truth is I’m blessed. Like Caroline, I work at home, the work has no demand other than that it be done on time, and I’m damn good at it so I’m not afraid of being cut loose, even in this competitive environment. And while I work mostly in the movie/film world the dream can sometimes get squeezed aside by the marginal financial existence that has become my life. And yet, I am blessed. I may not have the physical abundance I want, but I have the function of what I want: doing the work I want, freedom, freedom, freedom, and creative satisfaction, among other things. Form does follow function, so I’m doing something right. It’s kind of nice to know there are lots of other writers out there grappling with the same visceral issues around productivity and just plain survival. Not to glorify struggle--screw that. It’s just that that no matter how hard it gets, hearing other’s determination to make that 500 or 1000 word limit, no matter what, is truly inspiring.

Pageturners said...

The really difficult thing is the way that other jobs gobble your *attention* to the novel. If it were just time, it would be easy!

Clea Simon said...

Don't I know it! I'm sitting here thinking, "do I want to go back and rework that awkward bit or should I just forge ahead?" And then I realize I'm REALLY thinking, "Well, if I just transcribe that interview for the piece due on Friday, I'll have it out of the way."