Writer’s Desk: Finding Time

writing1“Where do you find the time?” That may be one of the questions writers hear the most. It’s heard just about as often as “Where do you get your ideas?” and is possibly as hard to answer.

The most likely response is, “I have no idea.” Every writer tries to carve off little pieces of time here and there. But none of us live in a vacuum. Family, work, joy—There are lives to be led, after all. Because of the time crunch difficulty, advice can help.

Here’s some time management ideas that Fast Company gathered from people who took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo):

As a single working mom of two, [Toni Morrison] carved out a few minutes to write before bed. She cranked out The Bluest Eye in that time.

I absolutely refused to go to sleep until I’d written 500 words. This was a ridiculously small goal for each night but I found that this was my own personal ‘hump.’ If I could get to 500 I could usually get to at least 1,500

When you have a big goal, you may need to turn down opportunities or invitations, or let go of a few responsibilities. Sometimes people feel guilty about this, but people who care about you will likely support you, especially if there’s an end in sight.

It’s not always about inspiration. Sometimes it can be about what you’re willing to give up. How important is writing to you in the end? If you’re not sure about how to answer that question, you may have your answer.

Writer’s Desk: Orwell’s Reasons

George Orwell at the BBC (1940)

According to George Orwell, he played around with writing from a very early age. A patriotic poem here, some comic verse there. But it wasn’t until he read Milton as a teenager (always a dangerous combination) that the fire was well and truly lit.

In the essay, “Why I Write,” Orwell lays out the four “great motives” for pouring one’s heart and soul into the often tedious manufacture of prose:

  1. Sheer egoism—”Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.”
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm—”Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.”
  3. Historical impulse—“Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”
  4. Political purpose—“Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

You might not agree with all these reasons; though it is difficult to argue with all books being political to some degree or another. But it is Orwell, so attention must be paid.

 

Writer’s Desk: Listening to Your Wife

Writers aren’t known for their eagerness to take advice. Some work well in collaborative environments where their text is ever being reworked by colleagues (newsrooms, say). But in the main, their tendency is resistance to outside meddling. It’s a common side effect of the stubbornness needed to sit down at that desk every day, even when the sun is shining and the last thing they want to do is grind out another couple pages of that damn novel.

The_Buried_GiantIt was refreshing, then, to read this in a recent profile of Kazuo Ishiguro, whose newest novel The Buried Giant is hitting stores soon. According to Ishiguro, he asked his wife to read his first pages:

“She looked at it and said, ‘This will not do,’ ” he recalled. ” ‘I don’t mean you need to tweak it; you need to start from scratch. None of this can be seen by anybody.’ “

He put the book away and didn’t go back to it for six years. It’s impossible to say, of course, whether Ishiguro’s wife was correct. But what’s almost certain is that more writers would be better off listening to that trusted confidant when they say, albeit lovingly: Don’t show this to anybody.

 

Writer’s Desk: Michael Connelly

When you’re looking for advice on writing, the masters are of course always reliable. But it might be wiser to just dive right into the ranks of those who spend their lives toiling in the fields of pulp. After all, it’s the creators of genre fiction who are more likely to have to work with brutal deadlines and for fiercely judgmental audiences.

Michael Connelly, 2013 (Brian Minkoff)

Michael Connelly, 2013 (Brian Minkoff)

So, here’s Michael Connelly, of the Harry Bosch series of novels, as well as The Lincoln Lawyer, talking to Writer’s Digest about his three favorite bits of writing advice. They’re all gold:

The best crime novels are not how cops work on cases; it’s how cases work on cops. — Joseph Wambaugh

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. — Kurt Vonnegut

When you circle around a murder long enough, you get to know a city. — Richard Price

Writer’s Desk: Keeping It Going

(c. 1942, Library of Congress)

(c. 1942, Library of Congress)

Like any other type of advice, there’s writing advice you want to hear that’s not terribly helpful, and writing you don’t want to hear that’s also probably what you need to hear.

Solidly in the latter category comes this bit of second-hand advice from Nicholson Baker:

Once or twice I got a chance to work with [Atlantic editor] Bill Whitworth on a piece or two — and I was just kind of struggling to support myself and, you know, life is busy and I wasn’t writing that much. He just said very simply, “Are you writing every day?” and I said, “Ummmm,” and I sort of mumbled because I couldn’t say yes.

It was a horrible feeling, and the day after that, I started writing every day … I fudge a lot where I think, “OK, did you write anything, did you write a text? Did you write an email? Did you write just notes on a scrap of paper? Did you write something?” So that’s how I get around it sometimes, by stretching the definition.

Let’s face it, there’s almost always something more fun to do than write on any given day. I mean, those socks aren’t going to organize themselves, are they? But if you get in the every-day habit, eventually it will become hard to break.

Writer’s Desk: Just Like Baseball

(c. 1924, Library of Congress)

(c. 1924, Library of Congress)

Forget plotting or sounding out your dialogue. Half the time, the greatest struggle with writing is the fight to just keep going. To that end, anything can potentially help.

Greta Gerwig, who’s adding a sideline of screenwriting to her acting career, gave this advice to the New York Times Magazine:

I have gotten into baseball recently, and whenever I have trouble writing, I think about the pace of baseball. It’s slow. You strike out a lot, even if you’re great. It’s mostly individual, but when you have to work together, it must be perfect. My desktop picture is of the Red Sox during the World Series. They aren’t winning; they’re just grinding out another play. This, for me, is very helpful to have in my mind while writing.

Keeping up spirits matters. Be your own cheer squad if need be. Whatever it takes to grind it out.

Department of Media: 2014’s Best Magazine Stories

(Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

The winners of the 2015 Magazine Awards (the rather unfortunately named Ellies) have been announced. The New Yorker took home a few as usual, and Vogue won for publication of the year.

More interestingly, awards are also given out for best individual articles; here are some links: