24 April 2008

Growth Spurts: Writing everyday vs. Writing when the mood strikes

Quite frequently I get the advice to write everyday, even if it is just something. I've taken this to mean letters, lists, brainstorms, editing, crappy poetry, free writing, forums, even syllabuses. (Or is it syllabi?) I suppose daily's the difference between a professional writer and an amateur, right?

I like to think that writing comes in waves, as it does in "real life" for most of us "amateur" writers. Many things in our lives come in waves, like our desire to socialize, our desire to drink or party, our desire to play video games, our desire to watch movies or TV series in marathon. Writing music is most parallel to writing with words, where it's standard for musicians to go years in dry spells, not producing, but practicing. What is a writer's practice?

Nothing fits neatly into "do it every day," I can't even remember to make a pot of coffee every day routinely, and what am I at noon without a morning cup of coffee? Tidying doesn't happen every day, checking email doesn't happen every day, even preparing dinner doesn't happen every day. Things have to build up, time has to pass, and then the moment is appropriate. Nature takes this approach: a clear sky, accumulate clouds, drop temperature, rain. Everything takes time.

A writer's build up—a writer's practice—is input. Reading, watching, traveling, doing. Things have to go in before they come out; thoughts have to occur, complement each other, develop. Ideas have to be said in ways they've never been said before, or if they do duplicate something already in existence, they have to reflect those ideas in different light, or shade, or shadow. It's not writer's block, if you will, it's writer's not-ready-yet. It's writer's busy-taking-things-in. Writer's input.

There's an argument that the writer has to practice by writing to improve, like the musician practices by playing. Every forced entry I've made during my horribly uninspired input-periods shows no signs of growth. In fact, I only make true growth when I edit, which I can only do when I'm willing to compose. After spending nine days reading everything written for the past four months, the new writing blossoms with all the errors from before snubbed out, all the detail that could have been there emphasized, all the thoughts I wish I could share illustrated. Many of them, anyway. This—this is growth. Nature designed growth to have periods of dormancy: watch the children. They eat everything in sight for a month without a wink of sleep, then eat the total of a piece of toast between 3 hour naps. Afterwards, you have to upgrade all the socks and t-shirts. Nature made winter. In order to grow, you have to hibernate. Epiphanies occur when you're not looking.

So with all this good news and stress-relieving argument, I strongly advise trying to write everyday. It's a matter of memory. Input-period writing can be slowly stirred, reduced to a mere list of things worth thinking about, maybe worth expounding upon later. Maybe that totally uninspired terrible, horrible, no-good conjoining of words will be, six days later, manna to a starving writer. It really doesn't look like much, but the nourishment potential is boundless. Writing is not production, it's not construction. It's the accumulation of materials. In the DIY world, you can't just go buy everything you need all at once, you wait until the right time for the right pieces, and when it's all there you put it together. It's an argument for using a notebook when you make phone calls, make lists, doodle. Something is there, and you'll be able to find it later.

As you get ready for bed at night, and process the accomplishments of the day, when you check yourself with, "Did I tell my kids I love them today?," add to that check, "Did I love my writing today?"

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