I read John Scalzi’s blog on a daily basis. Well, as often as he publishes a new post and it appears in my reader (Feedly). I’ve cut down the number of writers’ blogs I follow to those whose (non-blog) writing I enjoy and who have something interesting to say about writing and/or politics on their blog. Scalzi slots into this category with ease.
But I don’t want to talk about anything Scalzi said about writing or politics. What I want to talk about is the title of a post he published on January 23rd. This is what he published:
I Was Busy All Day Having Meetings and Recording Things and Not Writing, So, Here, Have Another Tinkly Moody Pretty Piano Song
Now, I can take or leave the ‘tinkly moody pretty piano song’ and, while it’s good of him to tell me about his meetings and recording, my life went on much as before. The simple phrase – two words, in fact – that got me thinking was ‘not writing’.
Here was a successful author saying that he was ‘not writing’! A writer who is prepared to declare – openly, almost brazenly – that for one day (at least) he was not writing.
This is akin to a Salem puritan admitting that he was late for the witch trials because he had a hangover and his feet were sore from too much dancing.
Writers, surely, write every day. Isn’t this what the books tell us? Isn’t this the commandment that, when broken, plunges us into guilt, self-recrimination, and shame? Didn’t Dorothea Brand call me a failure because I, er, failed to do this when I was younger? (Answer: yes, she did. But not personally.)
And here is Scalzi fucking with our heads, showing us that some writers just, well, don’t.
The moral of this, of course, is that every writer has their own routine and it is dangerous to get hung up on absolutes. Writing every day is a great habit to get into but if you miss a day, then you miss a day. That’s it. It’s all to easy to get into that fuck-it mode and feel that missing one day invalidates all your sense of being a writer. Maybe you’re the type of writer that writes once a week. Every week-end. Write 1,000 words every Saturday morning and it will take you longer to write your novel but that may be the speed that best suits you. Find your own pace.
Some writers write 10,000 words a day; Graham Greene wrote 500 words every day. Simenon used to write nothing for months and then lock himself away and write a novel in a week.
Try a number of routines and see which works. Just don’t call yourself names if you can’t match some writer you admire or aspire to be like. You may be a sprinter when they want to run marathons.
What routine have you settled into?