Home > Uncategorized > Writing is such a strange thing…

Writing is such a strange thing…

Writing is such a strange thing.

writingA terror-filled time mostly spent staring at an empty space…as you re-fill your tank with the self-loathing and self-doubt you managed to jettison the last time you wrote something you were pleased with.

Oh, and you don’t make money at it either.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

I’m not sure why we do it. There are days when it can take me hours to write 100 acceptable words. Or days to write a decent verse. We start and stop. Start and get distracted by a piece of lint on the floor, or the jangling collar of the dog. There might be errands that we can talk ourselves into, or a car door slam that requires investigation. A mail delivery can torpedo an entire day.

And then some days…..it just flows. It’s rare, but it happens. At times like these I’m reminded of Lincoln’s quote of the Mississippi river after the Union won the battle of Vicksburg….””The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

There’s a Lincoln quote for everything boys and girls. Trust me.

Even after years of doing this, I struggle with the basic math. Shelby Foote wrote his mammoth 3 volume history of the Civil War (speaking of Lincoln), 500 words at a time. In longhand. Five hundred words each day. That’s less than the front and back of a piece of loose-leaf paper. When you break it down that way, what seems impossible is just putting one foot in front of the other.

Stephen King churns out books at a rate of one or more a year. He writes 365 days a year, even on Christmas. But rarely for more than a few hours…..and he produces about 1000 words a day. Do the math. The average longish novel is about 90,000 words.

So, could I write a novel every year? No. But if I wrote 250 words a day for an entire year, guess what that equals? I can’t run a marathon….but give me enough time and I’ll eventually cover the same ground. It’s all a matter of how you look at things.

Of course it helps to be as good a writer as King, but I’m talking the mechanics of the craft right now. The actual ass-in-the-seat time. King is King because he’s better than most. But he also spends less time getting distracted by the lint on the floor. So he’s staring at an empty space a lot less than the rest of us mortals. He works harder. Foote mentioned that it took him 4 times longer to write his history of the Civil War than it took the combatants to actually fight it. But all those sheets of paper added up…..

Now on to quality.

Here’s where it gets dicey. Become some days the spigot opens and the words flow, and then you sit back later and realize you’ve been belching up shit all day long. I’ve had many days when I went to bed very content, knowing I’d written 2 songs! And then morning comes and I realize nobody is every gonna hear either one because they suck ass. Quantity is not quality.

But then again, a blank page is neither.

There’s a line I think. The best stuff almost always takes time. (There’s exceptions of course. Keith Richards wrote “Gimme Shelter” in 20 minutes. But he’s Keith Richards and we’re not. So….) But not too much time. There’s rescuing, and then there’s fruitless attempts at resuscitation. Sometimes words need to be put out of their misery. Write it. Look it over. Read it. Rewrite it. Look it over. Read it. Does it still suck? Then throw it away.  If the idea you have is a good one, you can generally carve something out of it that resists the urge to hit the delete button. Most bad songs and bad pieces of writing have fundamentally flawed premises to begin with. That is, the idea that kick started the process was dead on arrival.

And so onward I go. Words in my head all the time, but the kind that resist finding their way to paper. Even this insignificant little blog post (more words than a Shelby Foote day!) has dripped tortuously slow from my fingers. But it’s been worth it. You have to shake the tree as much as possible. You never know what might fall out of it.

“They can’t all be steak, kid.” That was the advice my father gave to a young newspaper columnist. It’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard.

There’s a second part to it though.

“But you still gotta eat.”

And once again….a Lincoln quote..

“Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world…enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”

So there.

In a bit..


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