Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What is working hard enough?

I just had a really interesting conversation with another writer about what constitutes working hard. She said after working four hours, she feels exhausted and needs to watch TV or read magazines, but I think sometimes you can be exhausted after one hour. Do you need to feel as if you have run the marathon after a day of writing? Does having an easy day make it less valuable? I think, for me, the thousand words a day that Clea and I have pledged to, is a way to get around this. I see pages build up (maybe not good pages, but I'm working on a first draft right now and that goal is way far away), I get deeper and deeper into my story. Some days it takes me only two hours, other days three or four, and of course, some days, I never get to those thousand words. (Clea and I have decided that thinking about the word and outlining also count!)

So, I'm curious how others feel. When do you know it is time to stop writing for the day? And how does that feel?


Clea Simon said...

OK, you've quoted me, so maybe I shouldn't comment. But this is so at the center of what we do. I think that's why I adopted the 1,000 words a day plan - cause that can take hours... or 20 minutes. (I got that from Karen Olsen who told me she set herself to write 5 pages a day until her book was drafted. AND DID IT!)

I am reminded of Yeats' "Adam's Curse":
A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'

Jeff Lyons said...

C & C:

Beautiful poem... ok, it's Yeats.

Great question. I've adopted your 1000 word technique (if you want to call it that) though I'm only doing 500. I find that with all the crap I have to write for my publishing overlords this 500 words gives me something to look forward to all day long. even if I can't get to it until 2 in the morning (which is usually the case). I'm usually exhausted by the time I get there, having read mindless drivel all day and having to turn all these sow's ears into silk purses for marketing copy. But then my time comes, and I can write my 500 words. I'm energized and fully awake.

I'm not trying to sound special or pejorative, but when you're doing your work, even when it's not clicking, how can it exhaust you? I think is only when we give in to the struggle (I totally don't buy the struggling artist bullshit) that we give up our energy to the process. No, I'm not Pollyanna, writing is tiring and it takes work, but it shouldn't deplete you like some of the writing work we all have to do to make ends meet.

Know what I mean? Again, don't mean to take some grand position here like I never get tired writing, I do, but it's a good kind of tired... :)


Clea Simon said...

I totally know what you mean, Jeff. I live for my 1,000 word time . One reason I get to do the 1,000 words a day because I just lost the newspaper column I've had for 12 years (oh no!!). Once I got past the crippling depression and panic part, that freed up a lot of my time. But the theory is the same -- a little bit of your own writing every day. Keeps the muscles taut and the brain optimistic. Or something.

Gina Sorell said...

Hmmm working hard enough. I don't know exactly how to measure this for myself, except that just about every night before I go to bed I think, "I need to work harder tomorrow." Sigh. I have always been this way.

But as for writing...I love the 1000 words a day plan and have to say that it has inspired friends as of my friends is doing 3 pages a day no matter what! I try to do 3 pages a day myself as well, but lately I have not been able to do work on my own writing every day and so am working more in chunks...devoting entire days to my writing, and other days to work, as deadlines dictate.

I think the most I wrote, was the three months leading up to your Novel 5 at UCLA Caroline. I was determined to have a finished manuscript and so I was writing 8-10 pages a day, for 10-12 hours. I didn't sleep a lot. But when I went to bed, I sure as hell didn't think I needed to work harder.

G :)
p.s. I totally relate to being pooped after four hours and needing to read magazines...or cookbooks!

Caroline said...

I think I love Clea's reasoning, that whether or not it takes you half an hour or half a day, if you get your thousand words in, you have been productive. Of course some days, you need and want to do more, and some days you just sit staring at the damn screen and wondering if you still have that application for dental school hanging around since you are pulling teeth at that moment anyway....

Don't get me wrong. I love writing. I have to write. I couldn't imagine not writing, but I always live under this cloud where I imagine I am too lazy. I think I'm just hard on myself, maybe.

Gina Sorell said...


I know exactly what you mean. I too have that cloud following me :) And my guess is, yes, you are way too hard on yourself! You are one of the busiest writers I know!

And I also agree with Clea, meeting that word count deadline means that I have been productive...and there is no way around it, and that's a great feeling.