Friday, November 21, 2008

Rule One: Writing Gets Priority

Over at this week, fantasy author Jane Lindskold* (notable both for her own considerable body of work, and as a partner to the late Roger Zelazny) posts a two-part essay here and here about the choices she's made in shaping her writing life, both before and after becoming a full-time pro:

Life seems to nibble away at writing time. For almost all my adult life, I’ve been in a serious relationship. I’ve owned and/or maintained my own home. I’ve always supported myself. No kids, but pets, gardens, gaming... I love to read. All huge time eaters.But no matter how drawn I am to these other things, I write. When I had another full-time job, I wrote seven days a week. Now that writing is my full-time job, I write five. This holds even when I have a “working weekend” doing book events or conventions.

Writing gets priority.

If there's anything that successful (for whatever value of that you like) writers agree on, it seems to be this: there's no substitute for the butt-in-chair time. Steal it if you have to, because only writing is writing.


*Who also offhandedly called me "handsome" once during a panel at Balticon, but that's neither here nor there.


  1. Great links, Dan. Thanks. Advice just doesn't really get more concretely helpful than you have to spend time writing.

    Oddly enough, the best insight these two articles gave me was something she said kind of offhandedly about writing short stories. Till now, I've really only considered writing every day to be something I do when working on a novel. When I write short stories, I usually get them all out in one sitting (or two, at that most). I've never made little-by-little progress on a short story. In fact, if I can't mentally set aside a large enough chunk of time to write an entire short story, I don't ever get around to writing it. And that's why I hardly ever write short stories...

    I think getting into the "little-by-little" mindset can really change your creative life once you realize that it can apply to every project you want to complete.

  2. One of the best little bits of advice I got on the craft of musicianship was: Don't put your instrument away. Leave it on a stand, and at least once a day, pick it up and spend ten minutes playing*. Best practice you'll ever have.

    It's not that there's no value in spending two hours honing your Travis-picking technique**; it's that if you convince yourself you need those two hours all at once or it's not worthwhile, you'll never do it. And you'll never do it if you pack everything away so that your practice becomes a big hassle. But put your instrument in easy reach, so it's available to you on a whim - then you'll keep at it, and pick it up more and more when you have a few minutes to spare. And having it in your hands will become increasingly natural and comfortable.

    It doesn't mean you'll be Bert Jansch in two weeks, but you're in this for the long haul anyway, right? Another way of looking at it: You can spend a little bit of time at it every day, so maybe it takes two weeks to write that story; or you can not spend any time at all, and at the end of those two weeks the story still won't be there.

    I just recently had Yeats' poem "Adam's Curse" brought to my attention:

    ...A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

    The important thing is not how quickly it takes to do something; it's that the end has to seem effortless. And that's only possible by putting in the time - little by little if that's what it takes.

    *With the proper technique and intent, naturally. Lousy practice, of any length, gives lousy results.
    **Or so I hear. I'm a really crap finger-picker myself.