I’ve been trying to get a science fiction novel published for over fifteen years now, and during that time I’ve learned a lot about the art and craft of writing. I’ve read magazines and books, both about writing and in my chosen genre, I’ve attended meetings and conventions, I’ve heard speaker after speaker both at meetings and in private, I’ve been a member of several critique groups, and a lot of stuff has been thrown at me over the years, all about writing in general, and novels in particular. In this post, I would like to comment on three admonitions that have been handed down from tutor to pupil almost without comment for many years. I feel they’re a little off the mark, and I think writers will adhere to them at their peril. For example:
- They say: Do not let anything interrupt you from your writing. Writing should be the most important thing in your life. Shut out all else and make writing the most important focus in your life. This is dead wrong. The most important focus in your life should be your health, not your writing. Don’t let your writing interfere with staying healthy. Get out and exercise. Go walking. Lift weights. Swim. Jog on a treadmill. Watch what you eat. Keep your weight down. Keep your blood sugar and blood pressure down. In short, keep your health in the best possible condition. It won’t do you any good if you have a heart attack at age 40 because you’ve been sedentary and you sat for long hours in front of a computer screen writing Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning novels. It’s hard to write from a hospital bed under sedation. Instead of worrying about how you could be writing while you’re exercising, you should be worrying about what you could do to exercise while you sit in front of that damn computer. Being sedentary is hazardous to your health.
- Keep track of your word count while you write. Put your daily word count on Facebook and proclaim it proudly to the world. Okay, this isn’t a bad idea, though I don’t know about the Facebook thing, but my disagreement with this admonition stems from the fact that word counts are useful only when writing the first draft. Like you may have done on NaNoWriMo. How many words did you write every day? But once you finish that first draft, you have to revise. And revise again. And again. And so forth. Word counts don’t apply very well to revisions, but I’ve heard of authors who maintain they write a certain number of words every day. Without fail. That may be true, but when do they revise? Are there authors who are working on a new draft all the time? My feeling is, don’t worry about the word count once you get to the revision stage. Concentrate on making the book the best you can. Your final word count is the most important.
I’ve heard some writers say they write a certain number of words everyday. Usually around 1000. If so, that means they put down 365,000 words a year. That’s three to four novels, but only the first drafts. When do they revise?
- Write everyday. Fine, if you want to do this, I’m all for it. My feeling is that it’s not that important. However, like any skill, constant repetition will help to make it better, and a daily writing habit is a good idea. Write in a journal. Write for 5 minutes a day. Ten minutes. Work on revising your latest work. But don’t turn depressed and suicidal if you miss a day. If you play a musical instrument, you may have been told the same thing: practice every day. It’s the same idea. The great pianist Artur Rubenstein is reported to have once said, “If I don’t practice for one day, I can tell. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife can tell. If I don’t practice for three days, everybody can tell.” Perhaps that’s enough said.