Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Guide To Creative Writing

(For Someone Who Doesn't Have The Fucking Time For Any of This Hippy Bullshit)

As my regular readers already know, I don't update this blog often enough to have any regular readers. I'm currently working a full time job (I4U) and a part-time job (Cracked) while also writing for Cracked as regularly as possible. That's a good 60-70 hours of work/week, right there. As you can imagine, my schedule leaves very little time for private projects.

This is an issue everyone who manages to make a living writing runs into at one point or another. When you're still in that "starving artist" phase, every moment of your free time can be devoted towards the goal of adding to your blog, working on those short stories or compiling the Great American Novel (With Dick Jokes). Once money is on the line though, these private projects suddenly become things you do instead of paying work.

Paradoxically, the employed writer often has less time to spend on the writing he really wants to do. It's a story I've heard time and time again, and lived for the last two years. There's no easy solution to it either.

Private projects, works of fiction and book pitches and experimental writing, are how we grow as artists. If you can't make the time to create something that is wholly you, meaningful professional progress becomes much more difficult. You'll find your career, even your life, stalling in mid-air.

And it isn't as simple as "write more". Time is a fixed resource, and creative writing requires reserves of creative energy. Those are too often drained at the end of a long day of writing-to-prompts. So far, I've come across two methods for dealing with this issue.

1. Parcel your private work out in small snippets throughout the day. Work for an hour or two, break for twenty minutes of fiction, get back to it for another couple of hours, break for a half hour, etc.

2. Start your day with creative writing. Ten minutes, a half hour, forty-five minutes...whatever time you can spare in the morning, spend it on something personal. This may mean waking up early and sacrificing some sleep.

Neither of these methods are perfect. #1 often leads to missed deadlines for paying work. You may also find that switching your brain from Work to Pure Creativity causes your train of thought to jump the tracks. If that happens, hundreds will burn to death. Or you won't get anything done.

#2 doesn't work for some people. If your brain isn't active in the morning, it may be best to spend that time pushing through some of your more menial work. You could try setting aside time before bed to write, but that can make getting to sleep on time problematic.

The key is to ensure that some time every day is devoted to Pure Art. We all have a set amount of Creative Endurance each day. The only way to increase the size of your "tank" is to get your brain used to that sort of flow.

Writing is a lot like running or weightlifting. The more of it you do, the more of it you will be able to do. Your brain gets better at translating thoughts to words. You get better at identifying good ideas and dissecting bad ones. And, most importantly, your endurance increases.

If you want to run a marathon, you don't start by running 26.2 miles. You run a mile or two a day, every day, until you can do more.

The same is true of writing a novel. You can't jump into it expecting to shove out 5 pages a day and be done in a year. But, if you start writing off 2-3 paragraphs a day, and push out more when the flow is strong, you'll be surprised at just how quickly you arrive at that (mostly symbolic) 50,000 word mark.

Coming Soon: The Importance of Writing While Horny.


Andrew Neel said...

Great advice. I tried writing a novel and running a marathon on the same day without any prep and it didn't work out so well.

rstevenpage said...

Great advice. I was drawn to your blog through your article about Hollywood gun myths. You have talent, my friend, I'm still chuckling hours after reading it. Keep it up and may your name be blazed in marquee lights.