I mentioned in my post The Dangers of Advice that among the common writing advice I don’t follow myself is the adage to write every day. Apparently, Jeff VanderMeer doesn’t write every day either, at least not to a specific word count. So you know, yet more evidence that you should studiously ignore all writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
I will add that, even if I’m not churning out word count every day, you can see from my post on Tuesday that I’m constantly engaging in what I am going to call writing mind. It’s more in the forefront these days, but even when I’m not shoulder deep in novel, it is a challenge to turn it off for any length of time. Almost everything I do, think about, read, I experience through a writer’s lens, so that being a writer suffuses my entire life, to the point that constant word count is, to a certain extent, a moot point.
But even when I’m not at the keyboard, I’m still writing. I think that’s what the paper notebook taught me. My brain ‘writes’ all the time. It’s just finding the time to sit down at the keyboard and record what is store there!
Certainly one has to write to be a writer, and as a whole the writer community is very insistent on this point given the number of people who say they are writers but don’t write at all. We feel obligated to be prickly about it because there is a wide-spread misconception that writing fiction is easy. But the more I write, the more I am coming to understand that the actual writing is a critical component of the whole, but not the only one.
It is a pleasure, especially for a perfectionist like me who sometimes (often) suffers under an unforgiving work ethic, to realize that the time I spend every morning sitting in front of the fire and staring into space, or feeding my brain with various economic analyses, neuroscience findings, pop psychology, and insights about books and writing is all in service to the writing. Of course if I have a particularly busy day I have to skip right past the brain feeding phase except for a brief brainstorm in the shower and jump right into the heavy lifting, but it’s nice to realize that both parts are necessary and valuable. This insight allows me to be more fully me and to enjoy the process without quite as much of the kicking and screaming (although plenty of that still goes on; you try writing a novel dealing with the mutability of memory and see how you get on).
Being a writer encourages me to keep having interesting thoughts and doing interesting things, which is an aspect of it that I value extremely highly, especially at this time in my life when I can fully appreciate the comfort that comes from slipping into a pleasant routine and avoiding challenge in favor of the pleasures I already know I enjoy. Writing itself keeps me constantly on my toes, but it also rewards me when I decide to get more adventurous.
A few recent examples for you:
- I went to see President Obama speak a few weeks ago, not just because it was an amazing opportunity, but because I thought, “Hmm, I’ve never been to a political rally or heard a person with high charisma speak in public. I bet that will come in handy someday in my writing.”
- We are beginning to consider our summer travel, and I provided my husband with a list of places I thought might figure into the settings of my next novel. “Which of these are you interested in?” I asked. Of course, it turned out that he was willing to go to any of them because apparently the heroine of the book has excellent travel taste.
- I picked up some novels recently that are not my usual fare, based on recommendations in an article by my friend Damien. Now on my to-read stack: Orlando by Virginia Woolfe, The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, and The Magus by John Fowles. I don’t know if I’ll like them, but at the very least I’ll learn something from them.
To sum up: Jeff VanderMeer doesn’t have a daily word count goal. Robin Hobb describes writing mind well. And writing mind meshes nicely with the desire to see life as an adventure and not settle too easily into general complacency.