See that book on the shelf? Next to all the maps, and unpaid bills, and deodorant from last night? That rather lengthy written tome? Well, I bet you can’t guess how long it took the author to write it. Go on guess. Maybe…two weeks? No? Three weeks? How about a month, two months? Sometimes it takes years to do this, and all authors have very different techniques for how to accomplish this task.
J.R.R. Tolkien for instance spent decades working on his lengthy Middle Earth mythology which in turn fed into myriad works such as “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “The Silmarillion”, and we all know that turned out.
I digress however. Writing is such a lonely task, or can be a lonely task, that it often requires specific ways of ensuring that it becomes an enjoyable process for the author in question.
One of the most famous authors out there, Neal Gaiman, author of fantasy epics such as “American Gods” and “The Graveyard Book” recommends simply to finish the book in question, as this is often the most important step. Many authors (myself included) often start something without actually finishing it, and as long as you have that first draft down, then the world is your proverbial oyster, and you can begin the long and important part of polishing and revising.
Ever seen “The Shining”, or “Christine”? Okay how about “The Shawshank Redemption”? Guess who they were wrote by? Stephen King! Yes, one of the most famous authors of all time. A horror maestro who wrote a book on writing entitled “On Writing”…simply enough right? Well he states that one of the best ways of writing is simply too…you guessed it, write! Right? Makes sense. Keep writing and also reading. A lot. Something I don’t always do myself, but there’s always room for improvement, and it makes a great deal of sense. If you don’t know what the current landscape is out there, and aren’t flexing your own muscles, how can you make any contributions towards that landscape? Mr King has been writing for a long time, so maybe take heed in this case.
A certain other famous writing you might have heard of…although he is admittedly now not as popular as Mr King, is Mr Ernest Hemingway. Now…he states something very interesting ,and you might want to take note of this (heck I did). He states that, in order to make meaningful progress, one has to stop the sentence just when you are on a roll (like the rolling boulder in Indiana Jones), and then when you come back to it, you’ll have no problem with writers block. This is such an interesting piece of advice right? Goes against everything I would normally do, but is also something that I might just try it in my next piece of Pulitzer award-winning fiction (no eye-rolling please).
Now…if I didn’t get that prize, what would I do? Go sulk in a corner, and drown my sorrows in those cases of beer that you left lying around (okay…maybe not do that). No…because I wouldn’t see it as a failure, and this is a key thing. Author Toni Morrison, states that failure is simply information to be parsed, processed, and dealt with over time…not something necessarily to take overly in an overtly emotionally and perhaps crippling way. Now, this is something I would struggle with myself, and I suspect you might too, but….it’s something to bear in mind and try to take on board for future use. Something to ponder on anyway, when writers block is threatening to overwhelm your sight.
Another thing to bear in mind is not the end goal within that sight, but rather the system that will get you to whatever that destination is, or maybe just forgetting that destination entirely. As the saying goes “It’s not the journey, but the destination” (or some such), and author John Steinbeck seems to think this is the case, with his rather sage piece of advice on this. Just keep going until you find some kind of an endpoint, and don’t worry about necessarily reaching said end point. Useful advice for whenever you have to run that next marathon too (maybe).
Speaking of marathons…when’s the last time you had an adventure? Say…went on a tramp steamer, or went into the African bush wearing only a giraffe onesie? And no I don’t mean that one drunken escapade down to Nando’s last Friday night. The point is, we all need a little adventure now and again, and author Colson Whitehead seems to argue this point entirely. The point about losing a kidney in a knife might be a tad much, or even rustling up some dysentery, but…who knows? Going on an adventure, and gaining some valuable life experience can be a valuable way of expanding the imagination and gaining some essential experience in the process which can then inform the writing that you then undertake (providing it’s not about your latest boozer down the pub…maybe next time).
Now…if you don’t want to go on an adventure, and would just rather sit home and stare at your calendar, wondering when you’re going to go on a new adventure, or wonder when the latest movie comes out…you could do yourself a favour and undertake some essential advice from one Jerry Seinfield. Mark off segments of your calendar, where you just write…nothing else, and use that as your guide for when you only do that, and daren’t break the chain. Pretty neat right? Seems to work for him, and I’d wager it might work for you (just don’t do a “Shaun of the Dead” on it ahem).
When not looking at this calendar, you might get bored…if you only set aside time for that and nothing else. No TV, no radio…no phones, nothing. Just do nothing, and then have yourself wait and see what happens. Chance are, you might want to write. At least that’s what Raymond Chandler advised, and he might know a thing or two about writing. Just maybe. Interesting right?
If all else fails, and you don’ find that interesting, disconnecting from the internet and pretending you have not long to live, might just do the trick. Extreme? Maybe, but authors Zadie Smith and Ann Enright seem to think these are useful strategies and I would say, if you are feeling it absolutely necessary to get yourself writing…these might be the tickets you’re after (not the droids however). Not only do they put you into a more shall we say…Zen, state of mind? But they also focus you and allow you to focus on the essentials and what you would really want in there. And those two things at the end of the day are essential, especially when it comes down to the long process of revising and revising and revising…you get the idea.
Now, when it comes time to writing down your next Pulitzer awarding winning idea on the beer mat? Maybe bare these ideas in mind and see if they bear fruit. You never know when the next publishing will be knocking down the door, demanding to see your next masterpiece…or knowing you, the next delivery man asking you to sign the “Breaking Bad” box set from Amazon.
Hey, you need something to watch for inspiration right?