What Are They Doing?

I am now intensely curious about what people mean when they say they are writing. I read something the other day about Nicholas Sparks talking about writing The Notebook and how he worked from 9 in the morning until midnight for six months writing it. I will refrain from writing snarky things about The Notebook and just say that I literally don’t understand that.

Did he honestly sit in front of a computer (or with pen to paper) struggling with each word so that it took him, I don’t know, ten minutes between each one? And yet, somehow, he had the self-discipline to force himself to sit there, rather than just being like “Um, I think I’ll see what’s on TV and try this again later”?

I’m good for a couple of hours a day and after that, I could stare at things for hours, but nothing more is going to come, you know?

On the other hand, I did just stare off into space for five minutes between this sentence and the last one, thinking, instead about how I want to write about “the Devil’s music” in the book.

It’s bad. It’s like I’m a baker who’s putting together a wedding cake and the cake has to cool before I can assemble it, and I haven’t even gotten it out of the oven and I’m still anxious to make roses and plan my piping.

The quilt, on the other hand, is barely coming along. I should have planned bigger pieces, because sewing all these tiny things together is taking forever. And I don’t have my rhythm of writing, working on the quilt, writing, while I’m stewing, so that’s no good.

And the weather is supposed to be beautiful this weekend, so… yeah… poor quilt.

Ha, I should take pictures.

But it’s funny. I can put in one hour on a quilt that seems to be going nowhere and I feel totally justified in saying that I’m making a quilt. I mean, just look at my dining room table! Of course something is going on in there.

But if I’m not actively spending an hour or two on the novel every day?

I feel weird about saying that I’m “writing” a book.

6 thoughts on “What Are They Doing?

  1. Hmmm. Well, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I think the important thing is to keep trying. Not everything you write will be good (nor will everything I draw or paint or whatever), and you might not want to ‘show your work’ to everyone, but you have to keep in practice. But damn, once in a while you get into ‘the mode’ or ‘the muse hits you’ and it’s kind of magical. Yeah, that sounds pretty dorky, but once I painted for eighteen hours straight and there’s no other way I can explain it.

    Also ‘The Notebook’ sucked (well, at least the movie did, I would not waste my time on the book), probably as much as ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ did, and I was practically forced into reading that piece of shit.

  2. there I was, reading along totally with you and then I got to “And the weather is supposed to be beautiful this weekend…

    I can’t recall the last time I heard that sentence spoken or read it. But I trailed off from the rest you said after that, pretty much.

    I read The Notebook – the movie was, of course, not as good. I’m not a chick flick/romance novel kind of girl, but I liked it.

  3. Different people have different ways of writing. I would work on my dissertation 6-10 hours at a stretch, maybe get only a page done, or even just a couple of paragraphs. But I ended up with very little revising to do once I was finished. Well, except for the two chapters that I kept combining and redividing in different ways, about half a dozen times. But, basically, that’s the way I’ve always worked at any substantial piece of writing. I can’t do a fast first draft and go back and fix it up in later drafts; my mind is always reworking what I just got down on paper/pixels. I can’t even imagine doing a NaNoWriMo sort of thing — I just can’t write that way.

    So I’d say that whatever method of getting it out works for you is what you ought to do.

  4. I’ve noticed a couple of patterns to my writing so far, too. I tend to write a scene at a time. In the project I’m working on now, each scene tends to be about 8 to 14 pages (single-spaced). Once I start a scene, I can generally finish a rough draft of it in a few hours, because I’m on a roll and into it. Sometimes I get interrupted (like if I’m writing during down time at work), but it doesn’t really stop the flow. The hardest times to write are when my wife and daughter are at home. They are a priority when it comes to attention; also my wife sometimes looks at my effort with a jaundiced eye, and that negative energy sometimes makes her my anti-muse.

    Anyway, when I get stuck, I go over the scenes I’ve written so far and read them again and revise them (sometimes just for continuity’s sake). That usually helps me get unstuck. The real problem, I think, will come when I have all my scenes drafted and placed in some kind of order. Then I’ll have a more or less complete story that I’ll have to deal with. But for now, it’s still a very enjoyable, challenging, and emotional experience.

  5. Thinking is a big part of writing, for me. I plan scenes as I walk to work, drive, sew (not quilts, though), knit, cook… So that when I do sit down for the 1-2 hours of actual ass-to-chair writing, I’ve probably spent 3-4 times that thinking about what’s going to happen.

  6. I have three “Writing Modes”

    1. Mode A: Research
    I will say that I’m “writing” even though I’m reading countless reference books. I’ve spent many months “writing” where no writing gets done because I’m interviewing locksmiths and med students and bakers and reading graduate-level history texts on Wales.

    2. Mode B: On Fire

    This is where I sit down and sort of go into a trance and the other part of my brain takes over and I enter into that other world where those other people live and I talk about what’s going on. It can last fifteen minutes or it can last three hours. It is very productive and very exhausting. But a good fifty percent of what spews out in On Fire mode doesn’t make the cut during Mode C

    3. Mode C: Piecing

    This is where I will sit down and mull over the right way to phrase something. I’ll either write a new paragraph–taking a good twenty minutes to do so–or edit my previous work. But it takes time.

    Then there are all the times where I’ll be writing in my head while I’m vacuuming or showering or doing dishes or whathaveyou. They usually get put on paper in Mode B, but I always consider that “writing” too.

    And Nicholas Sparks is full of shit. He has been talking that “9 hours a day just like a real job” crap for years as a way to put off just how much he’s such a better writer than everyone else. He’s an asshole of epic proportion.

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