The ‘Secret’ of Writing: Write

Wait, that can’t be right? Can it?

After a long hiatus, I’m returning to LJ *sound of trumpets*, a little ragged and weary after a whirlwind end of the semester. While I absolutely love teaching writing, the amount of feedback I give my students could trigger carpal tunnel, and it certainly keeps me up until all hours of the night. But hearing back from them after the semester ends reminds me that it’s all worth it. I had a student write to me over the summer to thank me for how helpful my class was to me in her internship. You don’t always get that kind of feedback, but it’s nice to know that all of that red ink hasn’t been for naught.

Ah, so on to a new challenge then: the blank page. I’m returning to a manuscript that I paused on in August to focus on teaching. It can be hard to regain momentum, but after a couple years of striving for a balance, I’m starting to find an approach to writing discipline that works for me. Even if my writing routine varies, my dedication to the story doesn’t waver. Writing exercises, manuscript critiques, small side projects, all of these things keep going throughout the semester and make sure my current novel-length WIP is never far from my mind.

Writers know that real writing isn’t jotting down a neat idea or writing an opening scene. Real writing is sticking to a project, even when the writing sucks (‘cuz sometimes it does), even when it’s exhausting and feels endless. Because if the product of writing is a story (or poem, play, song, etc.) then the end result needs to be a story. Just like art isn’t a bunch of doodles, just as a song isn’t a tune that came to you in the middle of the night, being a writer means having the discipline to write and finish your projects, whatever they might be.

And true writers know this. The key to writing is discipline. Sure, writing is creative, writing is spiritual, and writing fills the blank page and makes something out of nothing (or so it might seem). But in order to be a writer, we have to create that something.

So when a non-writer says to me (so sure of him/herself), “I have this great idea that you should write into a story,” I politely say, “I have enough ideas. But you should write that.” Writing isn’t a great idea. A great idea is a “triggering town”–that little blink-and-you-miss-it town you drive through on your way to your destination.

Inspiration is great. Full-fledged stories take work, dedication, and discipline.

Discipline and dedication in the process of writing come in many shapes and sizes. Some writers wake at 5 a.m.; some work until 5 a.m. Some work 9 to 5; others carve out an hour or two each day to write. There’s no magic formula. Because I teach, my schedule varies throughout the year. I sometimes feel guilty when I’m grading papers while my other writer friends are revising their work. Because of my schedule, my writing moves slower than others’ might. But I still have a schedule, even if it varies. My dedication to finishing the piece doesn’t change, regardless of the time of year.

When another writer talks about her/his writing practice/schedule/routine, I think we need to keep in mind that every approach is individual. We can incorporate aspects of that approach into our work (writing at a coffee shop was some of the best advice I’ve ever received), but we need to find what works for us.

One of the worst things we can do is to feel guilty because we read that another writer, whether best-selling author or aspiring, has a higher word count per day, or writes 9 to 5, or writes every day. Those can be crippling if they don’t fit into the reality of your life. If you only write three or four days a week, that’s still good progress. I write four days a week, about three hours each day, when class isn’t in session. This doesn’t count time at crit groups, networking with fellow writers, reading in my genre, reading books about writing, critiquing others’ work, writing in this blog, etc.

As long as you have a schedule that works for you, that’s what counts.

And so, as I finish a semester of teaching writing and begin a season in which I focus more on my own creative endeavors, I find myself examining the uniqueness of every writer’s approach to discipline. People outside of the field may marvel at the craft of writing. But it’s as much discipline as it is creativity.

So tell me, what approach works best for you? Has it changed over time? And how did you find the best approach to the process?

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