Monday, February 22, 2010

The first rule of Write Club is there are no rules.

And what, you may then ask, of your novel, dear sir. Only two chapters to go, and you left for Florida clutching a laptop and good intentions.

I've found writing is like exercising -- it's thoroughly addictive when it's a daily routine, but a little tough to get back into after an unavoidable break. And writing was impossible in one hotel room holding five people, three of them addicted to Cartoon Network. (To create quite unnecessary tension, I won't reveal which three.)

I'm not one of those writers who's internally driven to write every day. But I am one of those writers who's internally driven to keep going once he's started. Can't start, can't stop. A bit like my problem with being both an anal retentive and having an attention deficit. I'm both organized and untidy. Everything in the office, the closet, the bookshelf, the CD rack has a place, labeled, alphabetized, and color-coded, as appropriate. It may just have to wait in a random pile on the floor for a month or so before it's put there.

That's why the best advice for writers is still to follow a routine -- have a daily time when you apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, whether or not you're in the mood. It's taken me too long to learn this.

Now I'm on record as saying how much I hate rules or fixed templates for creative writing, and one of the most heinous is the one that says true writers have to write. They can't help themselves. The muse takes over -- if they have to wait more than a minute for the barista to froth up their machiato, it's whip out the netbook and on to the next chapter of their intimate memoir.

What a crock. Sure, there are authors like that, but they're more likely to be highly disciplined than constantly in the throes of inspiration. There are great writers who hate writing and have to be manacled to the desk by frazzled agents and publishers. There are fine writers who are content with 100 words a day, as long as they're good. For some, writing's a breeze; for others, it's a grinding, heart-rending chore. Just because you're good at something, it doesn't always mean you enjoy it. (And, of course, vice versa.) Dorothy Parker -- with whom I share a birthday, but sadly, little else, not even underwear -- said "I hate writing, but I love having written."

But just to contain multitudes, I shall make one observation that's perilously close to a rule. A person doesn't have to write much to know that he or she wants to be a writer. But the person who proudly upholds that ambition without having written anything -- and I've met some -- should be encouraged to keep the day job.

(I've been cheating on you, gentle reader. I didn't even write these blog entries while I was away. Most of them have been added since I've been back in Rye, because the hotel didn't have free wi-fi. I kept notes of what I wanted to say about each day and backdated the posts to match, just to keep it logical.)


  1. I'm sort of with Dorothy Parker here, except that I don't exactly hate writing. I hate having to write. There is a big difference between working on a project (book, article, blog post, design, sweater, novel, supper), and fulfilling a contractual obligation (even on a book that I really really want to write). The moment it becomes a *have to*, I don't wanna any more. I do it just the same, but it stops being fun and turns into a job, and I never actually wanted to have a job. (wah wah wah)

  2. And I thought I was the only one who felt that way . . .