Sunday, July 29, 2012

Guest Post: Kasia James on Not Writing Every Day

Sundays on the Write Every Day blog, another writer is featured as a guest poster or interviewee. Today's guest is Kasia James. Kasia has an upcoming novel titled "The Artemis Effect."

The guest post which she wrote is one which I referred to in my own Wednesday blog post "Three Reasons NOT to Write Every Day."

"On Not Writing Every Day" - Kasia James

While I realise that the thrust of this blog is to discuss the philosophy of writing every day, I'd like to discuss NOT writing every day. I am full of admiration for anyone with the dedication and self-management required to write every day, but I have to confess that, as a writer, this is not how I have found I work best.

I am perhaps best described as a sporadic writer. That is, while I may think about it a good bit, getting actual pen on paper (or fingers on keyboard) happens irregularly. At some times, I am simply too caught up in other parts of my life to write at all. At others, I am driven to get up at upgodly hours and thrash away at the keyboard like a woman possessed.
Writing a blog this year has been a great discipline for me, both in terms of regular posting,  but also in terms of the terrific suggestions I have had from fellow bloggers, such as keeping a small notebook to hand at all times. This allows me to record ideas and random thoughts about writing for later use, even when I am not able to act upon them.
There seem to me to be two main issues around writing every day, which perhaps Michael will be able to discuss in later posts. The first is one of quality. Does writing every day necessarily ensure quality, or does it just provide quantity, and a huge subsequent editing task? In my own work, I am aware that the parts of my novel which were hardest to get on to the page have been the sections which have required the most serious subsequent work, and occasionally editing out altogether. By contrast, parts where I was inspired, and the words just seemed to flow out freely seem to need much less work afterwards.  However, Frank Herbert, author of Dune, found quite differently. I have read somewhere that when he read back over the sections of writing which had come with difficulty, and those which came easily, he could not later tell the difference. Perhaps in my case it is a question of inexperience, as Mr. Herbert certainly put a lot of words on the page in his time.
The second issue which occurs to this addled brain is that of nomenclature. In these days where the school of thought of writing appears to be leaning towards the necessity of writing every day, many people would argue that because I do not feel a compulsion to put pen to paper every day, I am not a 'writer'. I have occasionally had people say that without this, I lack the necessary drive and dedication to 'make it.'
I guess I would ask those people if you need to run marathons regularly to be called a 'runner'. Or would a solid trot around the block twice a week still allow you to say that you run? Perhaps the marathon runners should be allowed to call themselves 'athletes', and perhaps there should be a term which raises the more serious and professional amongst us above 'writer'? We could of course downgrade people like me to 'amateur writers', but as I do have a body of published work, and have a novel coming out on Amazon very soon, this seems a little petty.  Championing a phrase like 'professional writer'  seems like a more positive route if there is a need to make that distinction.
I have wondered if the passion for writing every day stems from the world of music. I understand that musicians need to practice very regularly to be able to play fluidly and without effort, and I can see how this idea might flow into the world of writing. Yet, there does seem to be a crucial difference between the two disciplines. Practising music every day builds up 'muscle memory', so that players don't fumble between notes. By contrast, we use words every day, in speech, at work, even to articulate our thoughts. I'm not truly convinced that we require the same sort of drummed in practise.
Other issues with writing every day which occur to me are: does the flow of ideas keep up with the pace of writing? And if I have many interests and things 'on the go', is it good time management to force myself to do something I am supposed to be enjoying? I ask not because I doubt that it works for some writers, but because I really would like to understand how it works for those people.
So, to conclude, I'd like to say that it is important to find out which writing technique really works for you, and that method may be different for different people. I cannot help admire the tenacity and dedication required to write every day, but know that at this stage in my writing life, this is not the approach for me. To finish with two quotes:

"Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working." Pablo Picasso
“The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.” George Bernard Shaw

Michael again... I had let Kasia know that I was going to comment on a couple of the specific questions she raised in her post, because I think they're good questions and I wanted to address them.

Question 1) "Does writing every day necessarily ensure quality, or does it just provide quantity, and a huge subsequent editing task?"

I would say that a writer's writing habits do not directly relate to quality except insofar as they mesh with how the writer works best. That said, I think that writing fiction is a distinct skill which a person can get better at with practice and conscious effort. In the end, I doubt that there's an enormous difference between that practice coming in seven hour chunks every Saturday as compared to one hour a day every day of the week, particularly for someone who -- for whatever reason -- prefers to work that way. Of course, the downside of that is that if you miss a Saturday in that routine, you've missed seven hours of practice and productivity.

Question 2) (paraphrased) "What lets someone call themselves a writer?"

Anyone can call themselves a writer. There's no certification process or governing body which assigns that descriptor to people. If you're making good progress towards your own personal writing goals and someone else tells you you're not a "writer" because they don't like how you choose to work, you can tell them exactly what to do with their opinion or -- if you're of a more genteel demeanor (as I confess I would be) -- you can simply tell them that you appreciate their input and will take it under advisement.

I hope that you've found Kasia's insights on this topic interesting. Thanks for stopping by!

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