Friday, April 20, 2007

Write Every Day--or Maybe Not

by Chester Morrison, an IWW member


I have about 11,000 words invested in a first draft of a novel I want to write about my experience in Iraq. It has taken me a month to get this far writing in spurts: one day only a single sentence, a few days later maybe a thousand words.

I let my best friend read the first chapter (he doesn't read much fiction, but he is my best friend) and he offered some lukewarm encouragement. I let my sister read three chapters because she reads everything Stephen King writes, which I thought might be a good acid test, and I can usually tell when she's fudging an opinion. She liked it. But she is my sister. I stalled for about a week, after 10,000 words, and started looking for a workshop. I joined this one, and made my first post to the Writing list after listening to a Talk of the Nation segment in which Walter Mosley offered advice for writers.

Mosley described something close to my own experience. He said if you're writing every day you are deeply involved in the story and you stay that way, but if you leave off a day or two you might as well be back at the beginning, which to him is the most difficult part of the process. Mosley recommends that you write a minimum of an hour and a half every day without fail, and then reread the product of the day before and make only minor edits. So in my post I asked members of the IWW if this was the case for all novel writers--or if it was possible to walk away from it for a day or two and expect to pick up the flow without a creative pause.

Each reply to my post was unique, but there were two distinct threads running through the answers. While everyone generally agreed that writing every day was an excellent habit for a developing or even an established writer, several writers admitted they didn't do that, and that skipping a few days didn't affect their returning to the flow of the story. They could regain that flow by reading their way back into the narrative. Others felt that writing every day was essential; developing that habit made the act of writing second nature, less vulnerable to the interruptions from the environment or well-reasoned excuses. Again, the uniqueness of each reply was the stand-out feature, which left me pondering my own situation.

I am retired from the Army, but still work those five weekdays. Besides my wife, my oldest son (21) and his girlfriend live with us. So does my 19-year-old son, who is trying to decide what to do with his life now that high school is over. And I have a daughter entering high school next year. Everyone works, except the daughter, and schedules keep the house active from my five-thirty wake-up until after midnight. No one (except my best friend and sister who I used in weak, confirmation-needing moments and have since sworn-off) knows I am trying to write a novel, which may sound strange, but I just felt it would be better that way until I am solidly entrenched, say maybe forty or fifty thousand words. As I mentioned in the opening, I have written in spurts when I was alone in the house--very productive spurts, but I realize I can't continue that way.

And that seems to be the best notion coming from the writers who replied to my post: write every day--it's a good habit. At least until I publish something, and then perhaps I can fall back on some advice I remember reading somewhere that was attributed to William Faulkner: All you need to write is pencil and paper, some tobacco and a little whiskey.

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Chester Morris says: "I live in Northwest Florida, married 26 years, father of three (four counting son's girlfriend), fifty-five years on in this journey. I am in the Novels and Writing groups, and have completed my first three critiques and subbed Chapter One of my novel.

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