Friday, May 28, 2010

Peck Away at it or Binge?

By Barbara D'Amato

At writing workshops people often ask for the “secrets” of getting published. There aren’t any, of course, except work, but people ask what kind of paper to print on, whether to bind the manuscript, and I’ve even been asked whether I think it’s better to use a red, blue, or green pen for correcting your paper manuscript at home. Like I knew? I want to say, whatever works for you.

But one question seems important. Frequently, a beginning writer will tell you, “I wait until I get a real inspiration and then write a lot of pages in a few hours.” If I ask how much of their draft is finished, they usually back off or admit not very much.

My friend, the late Hugh Holton, said that he never made any progress in his writing until he decided to write four pages every day and not wait for a burst of inspiration. He wrote, no matter how late he got home—and it was frequently very late because over those years he was commander of the Seventh Police District, then Commander of Personnel, then Commander of the Third District. All lightning rod positions and all requiring frequent evening meetings with the brass or with the public. By writing four pages a day no matter what, by the time of his death he had published nine thrillers. He added that he did a lot of editing.

I feel like telling people to write something every day, even if it’s just a page. Like we all say, if you write a page a day you have a book in a year. But what right have I to make bossy statements like that?

I can only think of one successful, major writer who has told me he just writes when he feels like it. But maybe many do. I wish some of you would respond with your work habits. Do you work every day? Sure there are boom and bust days. Sometimes nothing comes. And sometimes real life intrudes. But do you regard writing as what you do every day, not just when the spirit moves you? Do you feel guilty on a day when you don’t do at least one page?


Dana King said...

When I'm writing, I write every day, a prescribed amount. Then again, I'm hardly a successful writer, so maybe I'm not the best example.

From everything I've read and heard, all successful writers write every day, when they're working. (They all have some down time.) So it's probably a safe to say all successful writers write every day, but not everyone who writes every day is a successful writer. (There's an SAT question in there somewhere.)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thanks. I agree. Is there anybody out there who will admit to writing only when inspired? [Not that it should have to be a horrible secret.]

Kevin Guilfoile said...

I agree. When you're working on a manuscript (although I think it's sometimes helpful to take breaks from it) you should work on it every day. I throw out lots and lots of horrible stuff later, but you never know in the morning whether the stuff you'll be writing that day is lead or gold.

Another way to look at it is that when you are writing a novel, you are only making it longer. When you are revising a novel you are making it better. Concentrate on making it longer right up until the day you're finished with a draft. Then you can start worrying about making it good.

Michael Dymmoch said...

If I wrote every day I'd have published 30 novels by now.

Jamie Freveletti said...

I'm under deadline, so am writing every day, muse or no, and whether the Hawks win or lose.
When not under deadline-usually five days a week.
I go by word count. No quitting until 1,000 are done, and if the muse is hot-keep on truckin!

Barbara D'Amato said...

Michael's comment is important, because I try to tell people to work the way that works for them. Michael writes wonderful, beautifully crafted books, and not by the X pages a day method.