Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Writer's Wife

It has been said that the hardest part of being a writer is convincing one's spouse that staring out the window is work. Recently, a friend on Facebook asked about organizational skills everyone uses to manage large projects. She had a bunch of irons in the fire, including a major writing project and my wife responded before I could.
Living with a writer I would say set your self a certain number of pages each day to write and don't think about anything else during that time. This time will vary on a daily basis so don't stress if it takes you 1 hr one day and 5 hours another day. Just figure out about how many pages per day are needed to reach your goal. Be sure to leave yourself time to edit afterwards. Most of all, step back everyonce in a while and take a couple of deep breaths.
I was pleased to note that she didn't mention anything about the post-its on the bathroom mirror when I'm plotting a new story or any of the quirkier bits of living with a writer. Essentially she summed up my philosophy of maintaining a working relationship with my current project. 

I've known too many people who tell me how desperately they want to write a book. They pick up a book off the shelf and say "I could do that" and then continue not to, thinking that someday they'll whip out a masterpiece in a long weekend. Worse yet are those who or throw themselves into the task willy-nilly with no appreciation for the sort of work and dedication necessary to complete a book-length idea in a publishable form. Most never get anywhere with it, ending up discouraged and viewing those of us who have managed it with a suspicion bordering on torches and pitchforks. 

I think maybe this is where my flirtations with journalism continue to pay me dividends, because even though I write out of a love affair with the written word, I'm also able to view it as a job. I set a daily goal and work until it's done. Sometimes I stay on and do other writing-related tasks, but the writing itself is always first and foremost. By viewing it as a job, replete with often self-imposed deadlines, I can generate actual words on an actual page, despite the many distractions of the gardens, the house that's semi-permanently in a state of mid-remodel and the other myriad things that are part of home life. 

During that time, I'm in work life.  

On days when I am at home rather than in the cafe doing my writing thing, I still get up with my wife, do my morning puttering, make coffee and put on real going-out-of-the-house clothes. After the Engineer leaves for the office, I sit down in my corner of the library and work my butt off. I try to keep the staring out the window to a minimum and live by my seven rules plus a few others. 

Writing is my job. Most of the people I know who successfully work from home follow this same pattern. The inherently casual feel of knocking around in your pyjamas is fun for a couple of weeks but after awhile, you notice that it lends to a less serious approach to your work. 

I know that a lot of agents, editors and other professional writers (not the ones participating, I assume) view the NaNoWriMo phenomenon with a jaundiced eye. Fifty thousand words in a month, especially for an inexperienced writer, is a bit much and perhaps expecting one to come out of it with a literary gem is too. But by planting a hundred thousand butts in a hundred thousand chairs, the organizers of NaNoWriMo are teaching the participants how to generate work. How to set goals and how to achieve them through relentless work habits. Even if the product of all that typing is a waste of ink and paper, what we learn about our work habits in the course of the event is not a waste of anything.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).