Sunday, October 4, 2009

Writing when you don't want to.

How do you write when you don't want to write?

You don't want to write right now because…
… you're angry with your child; or partner; or both.
… you're worried sick about your bills.
… there's a Criminal Minds marathon on A&E.
… you've had a bad day.
… you had a political argument with your boss.
… there's an NCIS marathon on USA.
…. you are emotionally exhausted; mentally exhausted; physically exhausted; exhaustedly exhausted.
… you're TBR pile will fall over an hurt someone if you don't do something immediately.
… it's been too long since you took the time to just relax and take care of yourself.

When I'm writing for hire my motivation is the deadline. The one rule for surviving as a writer for hire is hit the deadline. Delivering very good words on time fulfills your contract. Delivering perfect words a week late does not. Because your words are not just a commodity, they are a component in a larger package -- and very often nothing else can go forward until you've delivered. When an editor or book packager is considering whether to offer you more work, how well you hit your last deadline is as important as how well you write.

When I get an assignment, I lay out a calendar, dividing the number of words contracted by the number of days until the deadline to come up with a daily goal. Then I adjust the goals slightly to reflect the reality of my life -- very few words written on Sunday or Monday; Wednesday and Friday are more productive than Tuesday or Thursday; and my biggest day is Saturday. I then put these numbers in my planner, with a line next to them for entering the number of words I actually wrote on that day.
Then I ignore the damn thing until it's too late and write like a man possessed in the final week.

Useful as this method is, however, it does me no good when I'm writing original fiction. Because while a deadline is an excellent motivator, it's a motivator imposed from the outside. (And no, self-imposed deadlines don't work for me. I know an editor will not pay me if I do not hit her deadline. But I also know I will continue to feed me if I miss my own deadline.)

How then to keep things going, to keep writing, when there is no deadline and no guaranteed paycheque at the end?

Some use the obligation method. These are people motivated by a sense of duty or of pride or of something else I don't understand. For whatever reason, they park themselves in front of their keyboard for whatever amount of time they've committed to and type out the next four or six or twenty pages of their manuscript. I have no idea how they manage it, but I know several who produce saleable manuscripts every year this way. (My uncle, Allen Drury, wrote this way -- six hours a day, seven days a week.)

Others use the reward method. In a way this reflects back to the "reasonable goals" system I mentioned a few columns ago. The writer promises themselves some small reward for completing each phase of the project. A chapter might be worth a slice of cake, for example; completing a revision might warrant an evening out with friends. This method does not work for me because I cheat. (You do not get this overweight through self-discipline, y'know.) But again, I know several writers, few of whom are obese, who use this method.

When it comes to keeping myself writing in original fiction, the method that works best for me is probably the most dangerous: Have several projects going at once. Work on whichever project excites you the most. When interest in that one wanes or you hit a wall, switch to another project. The danger of course is in the acceptance of unfinished manuscripts. Get too comfortable with those and you end up with a trunk -- or hard drive -- full of two-thirds-complete novels. But if you're writing about something that excites you, the writing itself stops being work. Instead of being one more chore you have to complete at the end of an exhausting day, your writing becomes your refuge -- what you do to relax and rejuvenate after a hard day in the classroom or office or sales floor.

How do you write original fiction, sans deadline, when you don't want to write?
I don't. The trick, for me, is to want to write before I sit down at the keyboard -- even if it's not the project I was working on last time. Then I just open a vein and let the words out.

What's your method?


Phyllis Bourne said...

Next to a looming deadline, anger is my best motivator. LOL! So somebody please come over here and piss me off!

Jewel Amethyst said...

My method? Write several in my head first then attack the computer like a mad man when I sit down to write. Of course that means my head is constantly in the clouds while I'm daydreaming about characters, and scenes and dialogues. But it works for me.

Liane Spicer said...

"How do you write original fiction, sans deadline, when you don't want to write? I don't."

And there's the rub. When I don't want to, I don't either.

Farrah Rochon said...

Kevin, my motivation is always my day job. I just know I don't want to stay in it.