Well, it appears that I fell off the edge of the blogosphere for a couple of weeks. My apologies. I don’t even have a valid excuse: I was distracted by a week of birthday shenanigans followed by a week of vacation. That being said, I thought this week might be a good time to discuss how everyday things like laundry and Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathons can serious derail my writing.
When I was a younger writer, I would constantly be waiting for inspiration. My little college self would sit on a stone bench in the quad like a lightning rod, waiting to be struck with a story or a poem. I was convinced that if I forced myself to write when uninspired, that what I produced would be utter excrement. Needless to say, I discovered that mindset to be almost entirely based on delusion. I began to sit longer with my blank pages, give my ideas more time to develop. What prompted this evolution in my writing process? A number of things; As a student of writers, I was becoming a better writer myself, and I was also growing up.
While working toward my undergraduate degree, one of my writing courses listed Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, as required reading. The chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts” was a turning point for me. It felt like some writing god was giving me permission from on high to write terrible stories and poems. Well, sort of. It’s not like I was trying to write poorly on purpose. I just felt like I could forgive myself when the earth shattering poem I thought I’d written sounded more like a whiny emo song when I looked at it the following day.
As I grew older, I definitely wrote more, but I don’t think that I ever wrote every day. I would have liked to. When I was eighteen, I imagined that my life would consist of writing poetry and novels in a gothic castle off the coast of Maine. Unfortunately, life is not like that unless your are very talented, very lucky, or independently wealthy.
After shelving my sea-castle retreat fantasy, I enrolled in the MFA Program in Fiction and Nonfiction at Southern New Hampshire University. I did this for several reasons, but the one that’s most relevant here is the fact that I wanted to write a book and my MFA thesis would be just that: a polished, book-length manuscript. I had never made a serious attempt at writing a novel, and it was terrifying. However, it was also incredibly exciting. The poet was evolving into a novelist ( who was also still a poet, but that’s beside the point.)
Each month I was enrolled in the program, I was required to submit thirty pages of revised manuscript to the professor I was working with. Thirty pages, and they were supposed to be halfway decent! I’ll admit I was intimidated. I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but I was absolutely unwilling to fail.
Amidst this first week of MFA acclimation, I heard the same piece of advice from multiple professors, multiple times. It essentially boiled down to this: “If you want to succeed in this program, you HAVE TO WRITE EVERY DAY!” So I did. Eventually, I settled into a comfortable routine: Go to work, go for a run, sit at my computer for an hour or two, watch Star Trek (The Original Series). I would generally spend the first fifteen to twenty days generating the thirty required pages, and then use the last ten to revise. I had never been a more productive writer, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought.
Three years out of the program, I no longer adhere to such a strict writing schedule. However, I do try to write something every day, whether it be a poem, a novel page, or a revision. It’s not a perfect system. Most weeks I hit five out of seven days. Still, it beats waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead, I go out in search of it. Sometimes I fail, but whatever I write is better than a blank page. The best part is, the more frequently I write, the more inspired I become. It also becomes difficult for everyday life to become an obstacle when my writing has been integrated into said everyday life.
Does this work for everyone? Who knows? I will say I’ve seen it work for many. If you are a writer with a Spartan will who already keeps a rigorous writing schedule seven days a week, I bow down. I would like to make an action figure of you to keep at my desk for motivational purposes. However, if you’re not, give it a try for a while. Just write something–every day. I double-dog dare you.