I totally agree with what everyone’s said this week. There are no easy answers when you write. You shouldn’t do it for the dollars, and the only way to get anything done is to put your butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard.
But I wonder if we should debunk ALL the writing myths. For a while, I really thought so. I was a total hardass. I refused to accept writer’s block. I wrote even when the writing was awful. I really tried to treat it like a day job.
The problem is, writing is not a day job, even if it’s what you do for a living. Writer’s block, I learned, is there for a reason. Sometimes you need to slow down, regroup, and pay attention to what’s going wrong and why.
For the longest time, I couldn’t get my second book to come together for love or money, and I finally figured out that it was because I’d stripped all the mystery out of the process. I’d lost the magic, and when that happens, you’re kind of like Samson without his hair.
I needed to learn to buy back into the myth of writing as an alchemical process. I started hiding when I wrote, and writing late at night, which is something I generally don’t do. I tapped back into all the mythological things I believe in: the transformative power of female relationships, the persistence of goddesses, hidden feminine histories. I had to learn to recreate secrets, keep them, and then, when the time was right, let them out.
So, for all of you scribbling ladies (and maybe gentlemen) out there, I say: Don’t kill your darlings too soon. Leave them a few scraps of mystery. They will respond well to the feeding and care. By all means, put your butt in the chair, but make sure you let your mind wander free. Bon vivant!
10 Replies to “Personal Mythology by Deb Tiffany”
These are wise words, Tiffany! For the project I was working on before LIARS, I had that “butt in chair, no writer’s block” thing going, thinking just because it was difficult didn’t mean I should stop… I’ve since realized the reason I was grinding it out and it felt terrible is…the book was terrible. So I put it aside and started LIARS.
I definitely agree with this, especially the part about not giving up on a manuscript too soon. Did you know that Steven King threw the first few pages of Carrie in the trash? His wife fished them out and told him to keep writing… so sometimes it’s good to get a second opinion. The hard part is figuring out where to draw the line. At what point can you safely say, This just isn’t working and it’s time to move on to something new?
I’ve definitely learned that the churning it out process isn’t for me. The problem with just plunking butt in chair and applying fingers to keyboard is that you can end up going awry at 20,000 words and then write another 60-80k that are in the totally wrong direction.
Part of learning to be a writer for me is learning not to try to keep up with other people’s work styles!
One of my favorite times to write is after midnight. It’s not practical, because I have another job and I feel exhausted the next day, but so much magic happens during that quiet time. Thank you for reminding me to re-capture the whimsical, nutty, beautiful animal we call writing and throw the “rules” out the window!
Yes, it’s about the magic — the feelings from your heart that finally find expression.
Katie, that’s a big thing, too, for me. I’ve had to figure out what works for me, and go with it. But, at the end of the day, you still have to get those words written!
Corinne, I’m always a wreck, too, when I’ve been working late. My kids always seem to scream louder that day and fight more. And, Larramie, magic is the best word for the process!
I was just telling my husband today that the only time writing is really hard for me is when I’m going in the wrong direction. In a way, I treat it like a day job, but also tenderly. I write Mon-Fri generally (except on deadline) and I wander in to work anywhere from 7:30-10:00am (I have a very lenient boss) and quit between 2-4pm. I rarely set goals as in number of pages, unless I’m revising or on deadline, but I also don’t schedule anything else during this time. If you ask me to lunch Mon-Fri, I’ll probably say no, but maybe not too because flexibility seems to help creativity. I’m always open to late afternoon tea though. And if I get too stuck, I just go read. Or shower. If I could do all my writing in the shower, I’d be a Pulitzer Prize winning author by now. Haha!
Some of the most soulless books I’ve read are by people who tell me it’s just a job and they’re just doing it for the money. Thanks for reminding us that it’s important to treat it like a job (be a professional), but still keep the fun and magic in the writing. Your readers will thank you!
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