Monday, June 23, 2008

Write More, Suffer Less

by Mary Saums

Fiction writing is a strange process. Those of us who work on novels and short stories expected the job to be difficult from the start. We knew it wouldn't be easy to craft a few sentences, tap the paper or computer screen with our magic wands and have a full-blown character sit up from the page, stretch and yawn, and perform for our readers' delight. Still, this is what we work toward. We want to create stories that readers can't wait to return to, ones they love to immerse themselves in. We want our settings and characters to provide an escape route so readers can leave their troubles behind and enjoy being in a different, interesting place.

Yet these very things are what many writers deny themselves when it's time to sit down and work. We procrastinate to keep from returning to the desk and to our stories. I'm the world's worst at this. It's amazing how many household chores need immediate attention when I should be writing. We know what a great feeling it is to be 'in the flow' as we work. Why do we put off getting in it? Writing is as much an escape as reading. Why do we choose to dwell on everyday problems or do other things, anything, rather than write?

Part of it is fear. We know it will be hard and we're afraid we'll do a bad job. Another reason is guilt. We have families and other real-life obligations that require most of our day. It's not always easy to become unavailable for an hour or two.

Lately, I've decided that perhaps writing requires a certain amount of procrastination after all, in the form of doing something that is not related to writing. Remember the movie 'The Karate Kid'? Wash the windows, wax the car. Focus on the task, forget the other noises in your head. I read an interview once in which Ruth Rendell admits she likes to move almost every year. Maybe that's her way of putting her surroundings in order, and similar to my desire to clean house before I write. Okay, probably not true since Ms Rendell could write great books in her sleep most likely, but I do think straightening my house before a writing session does help me.

Another thing that may hold us back from our work is that we're reluctant to give ourselves permission to take a break to write. In order to write, we must allow ourselves some time each day to be joyful. Make it a daily gift. Get on the escape route and leave everything else behind.

Anticipating writing time the way we look forward to uninterrupted reading time is the key. If we can lose ourselves in our work, the way we want our readers to lose themselves in our books, our fears or anxieties will vanish. We'll be too busy enjoying the crazy, frustrating, satisfying process of writing.

Mary Saums is the Review Monitoring Liaison for Sisters In Crime


Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. I've definitely been in wash the windows, wax the car mode for the past few weeks. Thanks for telling me to give myself permission to get back to writing.

Mary S. said...

Sharon - Doing chores helps me clear out mind clutter, I think, so when I sit down to write, I can focus quicker on what needs to be done. So there is an 'up' side. I have to be careful though, since I have so little mind to start with, I can't afford to empty it too much. :) This is my rationale for keeping housework to a minimum. :)