Six impossible things

From the Mailbag #3

Where are your best places to write?

I can write pretty much anywhere; I learned that trick when I was still working and had very limited time in which to write. (“A writer with only two hours a day can write in the back of an open truck on the Interstate.” – Gene Wolfe) Most of the time, I do my writing at my desk, on my computer. Fairly often, especially if I’m having trouble, I take my laptop to a coffee shop or restaurant and work there (I know exactly which tables are near outlets in all my favorite spots!). Doing this takes me away from all the distractions at home. People keep recommending that I go to the library; they don’t realize just how distracting I find all those books!

Do you carry a journal around with you?

Not exactly. I usually have a pen and paper in my purse; if I’m not carrying my handbag, I usually have my PDA or cell phone that I can take a few notes on. But I don’t keep a journal of any kind. I’ve tried a couple of times, and never been successful at it for more than three months (and the only time I managed it that long was because I was traveling through Europe, and knew I would never remember it all if I didn’t write everything down!). Lots of other writers do it and find their journals incredibly useful, though. I just never got the hang of it.

How often do you write?

Honestly? I try to follow my own advice and write at least a little every single day, but in actual practice, some days I don’t. When I don’t, I start feeling twitchy. If I skip more than a day or two, it gets harder and harder to get back into whatever story I am writing.

It’s kind of like brushing your teeth – we all know we should do it twice a day, every day, but does everybody do that every single day of their lives? Not anyone I know. Even the most obsessive people have days when they get home at 2 a.m. and it’s just too much bother, so they go to bed without brushing and wake up with furry teeth. It’s better to do it every day, but realistically, it doesn’t always happen. Still, I do try to write something every day, even if it’s only a sentence.

How long do you write each day?

I’m one of those writers who goes by word count, rather than time. This lets me get away with working for only half an hour some days, if I’m on a roll and the words are coming as fast as I can type. Of course, when I’m on a roll, sometimes I don’t want to stop and I get twice as much done as I normally would. Most days, a good writing session will take one to two hours before everything starts slowing down and I really need to take a break. When I have a deadline closing in (as I do currently), I do two or more sessions a day – whatever it takes to meet my day’s quota of words.

This only counts time spent at the computer, typing new words that are part of the story. Revising, reviewing old material, calling my agent about a subrights offer, research reading, making maps, diagramming plots, going over comments from my beta-readers, surfing the web in search of information on the Philadelphia train station in 1858, answering fan mail, blogging, etc. – none of that counts as writing time. That’s what I do with all the rest of my time.

What is your favorite time of day to write? Does the weather influence your writing?

Nobody’s ever asked about the weather before, and I don’t think I’ve thought about it much. Hmm. I tend to have more energy when it’s sunny, but nice days also tend to tempt me away from my computer. Rainy days are good, but just gloomy and overcast, not so much.

Favorite time of day…well, I like writing around lunch time and early afternoon; that’s when I do a lot of it. My absolute most productive time, though, is right after I get up in the morning. Especially if I get up early, which is really, really annoying. I thought that being a writer meant always being able to stay up late and sleep in, but not for me. (This is especially annoying because it does work for so many of my writer friends. I just happen to be the odd writer out.)

  1. Do you find that deadlines inspire or stifle your writing?

  2. Most of this rings a bell with me – especially the falling out of a story if I neglect it. Worse, the spirit often fades before the form. (“Huh? I know there was some utterly compelling reason for so-and-so to happen, but, eh, what?”) When that happens, I never know whether it was just my reach exceeding my grasp, or a really wonderful butterfly that has now flown out of range.

    The one alien notion to me is ‘revising as not writing’. For me, the original composition is quite often the easy stuff. Where it needs serious revising at all, it needs it to turn it from typing into dramatic truth – and that’s the hard part of converting my fantasies into a story.

    So now I do wordcount in revisions, when they’re extensive enough to be done by actual re-writing. Where they’re more in the nature of editing – no, me neither.

    • Amanda – Deadline pressure is one of those things that is useful for some writers but not for others. It’s not really about inspiration, though; it’s more like a deadline for a college paper. When I have one, it’s a lot easier to be disciplined, because…well, because I have to be. It doesn’t always work (or I wouldn’t have missed my first two this go-around), but I generally produce a lot more words per day, on average, when I have a deadline approaching than when I don’t.

      Gray – The revising thing is a process difference. For me, it’s a lot easier to fix something that’s already there than it is to come up with the stuff and get it down on paper in detail in the first place. Right now, for instance, I know what happens next in general – the scene with big brother #1 about X, followed by the scene with Y in which Z happens, followed by dinner with A, B, and C in which plot thread Q gets picked up again, then back to Y to wrap up this plot section. That should be at least two or three chapters’ worth, but getting it all down on paper is like pulling teeth. Once it’s on paper, fixing it is usually faster and easier. Other writers (like you) have a much easier time piling up words in the first place, but fixing them is a drag.

  3. I do like writing on cloudy days – if its sunny, I feel guilty because I feel like I should be outside instead of sitting indoors at the computer 😉 I don’t really keep track of how much time or words I write, because sometimes that distracts me. I’m always glancing at the clock or at the bottom of my document. 🙂

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