Monday, May 12, 2008

A writing schedule for a short story writer?

I am still trying to sort out what the Writing Life is, and several changes have provided food for thought. First, inspired by a blog post on Sarah's Writing Journal, I now having a writing buddy, Clare, who blogs at Three Beautiful Things. We were "fixed up" by Sarah, - thanks Sarah - and the idea is that every week we send each other our writing-related goals for that week, and then we follow up with each other to see how the other did.

So: we're into our second week, and the first week was great. My first goal was to set myself a writing schedule, so I created up a new Google Calendar for my writing, and laid out a daily, two-hour block of time for writing. Writing time isn't just for writing, it's for writing-related activities - submitting stories, following up on submissions etc..

And it worked well - if I was out I felt like I had a meeting to get to I couldn't be late for, with myself. What was also good about this was that I got rid of the guilt feelings of not writing, and there was a division between writing-time and non-writing time. This felt good, it felt like I was making writing more like a job. Yes, I thought. This is how it's supposed to be.

Now it's Week Two and questions are starting to arise. I sat down today for my two-hour writing time and I felt like I didn't want to be there. I felt antsy, irritated. I didn't want to write. I didn't want to edit anything, to revise. I didn't want to submit any stories. Suddenly this felt like a place I had to be instead of a place I wanted to be. I lasted an hour and a half, much of it playing Scrabulous and sending Short Review-related emails. Then I gave up and went and made cupcakes.

So, here's my question. If you are writing a novel, you have what to work on day in and day out. You have a need for quantity, you have to put in the time. And probably you have to do this every day to keep up momentum, although I don't know, never having written a novel. But - and it's a big but - what if you're a short story writer? Do you have what to do day in and day out? As opposed to with a novel, a short story can be any length, and more importantly, a short story writer needs more than one idea. A short story writer needs to "come up with" lots of ideas for stories. Not all at once, but every now and again. And the way I have been operating uptil now was that ideas would bounce around my brain a lot, first lines would appear just as I was falling asleep at night, and I didn't write them down but I played with them in my head. My head was the place a lot of the writing happened. If the idea vanished after a day, I'd let it go. Only the characters, the openings that were persistent, that knocked and knocked, get to the next stage of making it to the computer screen.

I like this method. And, more crucially, this isn't something I can force. If I force it, it comes out clunky. It's me trying to write a story instead of me writing a story. You see the dilemma.

How do I reconcile my desire for a routine, for structure, with respect for this whimsical, could-strike-at-any-time creative process, what is often called being in the Zone?

Of course, the real hard work, the revising and working on the first draft of a story, does require setting time aside for. This is the hard graft, this is nothing really to do with the Zone, this is me with my analytical hat on, my editor hat. This is the vital other half of the writing process.

Any other short story writers out there with suggestions? I don't want to abandon this new-found routine, but I don't want to get myself so irritated that I am not writing. Help!


Women Rule Writer said...

Oh God, this is one of my dilemmas. I write in shorter forms: short stories (getting shorter and shorter...) and poetry.
When I wrote my novel and half-wrote another one, I was at my desk, working solidly, diligently recording word-counts.
I have no big novel idea these days, so I am back where I am happiest, with short fiction, but having a fallow period and I feel so UN-busy.
My advice? Stick to the routine, but be flexible. If the two hours you set aside are making you grumpy, walk away. On the proviso that you must sit down again that day until you have 2 hours done.
You may just mess about but at least your bum's on the seat and you are applying yourself.

Vanessa G said...

Good advice up there. But I would say as well...don't feel you HAVE to work on whatever it was that you had scheduled.

I would think so long as you keep writing, you are a writer. Anything. But watch out for scrabulous addiction. its as bad as running the Workhouse!

I was reading your Short Review today, and one of the interviews. The writer had taken 20 years to put her collection together. She said 'Impatience is not the writer's friend', or words to that effect.

I understand that. Good wise words.

When we worked together it was great because there was absolutely no pressure...and we wrote loads... twas a good year or so. For which, muchas muchas gracias.

Don't be hard on yourself. Let that little writing child inside know that you love her, OK?

(Not my words, Beverly Jackson's...)



ireneintheworld said...

thinking is working too tania; use some of your time to lean back and just let your mind play with that time you've given yourself. i'm trying to make myself be more structured - today was the first day and i did two things: i got up off the bed and sat in my chair at the desk with a pen and notebook; i actually scribbled the three morning pages required for the book @the artist's way'. but i don't know if i can keep it up. x

Nik's Blog said...

Yes, what the above have said. If it isn't working then it isn't working and I don't think that forcing yourself to write for the sake of it and just because you've told yourself you WILL will be particularly productive. Good ideas can't be forced (especially new ones, regularly), they appear when they're, or you're, ready; of course that might be when you're at your desk, when you're supposed to be, being grumpy about not having any ideas or motivation.

I think the 'be flexible' advice is key, and would add a 'don't beat yourself up' too.

Ramble, ramble.


Clare said...

I would rather do ANYTHING in the world than sit down and write sometimes! I've just deleted all the games on my computer, and set some strict rules about what housework needs doing.

* I bribe myself -- do an hour and then you can bake cakes.
* I time myself -- do quarter of an hour. Come on, quarter of an hour. What sort of loser can't manage to write for quarter of an hour?
* I set a tiny goal -- another three lines. What sort of a loser...

I also think it's important to look at why you've stopped -- I stalled this week because I got stuck on a play. But I didn't admit that's what the problem was until yesterday. I'm learning techniques to unstick myself, but I still don't identify when they're needed, and remember to use them.

Vanessa G said...

one more ramble, to join Nik's... don't you find that there's always a kickback against new ways of doing thigs? The brain saying 'ha!thought this would make you a writer, eh?"... its just another way our little demons undermine us. Dont listen.

Im sure you and Clare can undermine the underminers,

be happy. And loads of good luck with White Road. I cant wait to see it.

Kerry said...

I agree with all the above. I wake at about 8 and work till about 12 each day but that also includes all the misc writing stuff (like this post!) and some days when I just vread about writing. No need to force yourself; why take all the joy out of something you love? Just being aware of your productivity is being a step ahead in my book :)

Tania Hershman said...

Such wise words, it helps enormously to hear about everyone else's working methods.

WRW: Good advice about getting up and walking away, but this 2 hours is arbitrary, do I need two hours a day? I don't know!

V - great quote, "Impatience is not the writer's friend'" and also, loving the little writing child. That speaks to me, I feel like I am whipping the little writing child with this schedule, instead of nurturing.

Irene - good for you with your morning pages, I am very impressed. I've never managed to do that myself. I like the idea of "just let your mind play with that time you've given yourself".

Nik - not rambling at all, more wise words! Yes, flexibility is the key. Why do I crave structure? Surely that isn't why I chose this life?

Clare - bribery is an excellent idea! I love it! Will try that and let you know. Good point about why I got stuck, I will examine that during my next writing time.

V - excellent point about the kickback, yes, that is exactly how my demons operate!

Kerry - thanks, you make me feel productive just by whining about how unproductive I am!

Does this count as writing time??

Nik's Blog said...

Tanie, Neil Gaiman's just posted an interesting, um, post, on thinking/ writing time; albeit in relation to novels. Might be worth a look:


Nik's Blog said...

And apologies for spelling your name wrong.

ireneintheworld said...

tania i found a fab quote in 'the artist's way'...

'...imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.' Brenda Ueland.

isn't that great? i love 'moodling'. x

Tania Hershman said...

Nik - thanks for that, it is interesting but I don't necessarily agree with Gaiman about thinking not being writing - of course, you do have to write something down eventually, but a lot of "writing" can take place in your head first. And no worries about my name being spelled wrong, everyone does!

Irene - I love that quote! I may print that out (on my new laser printer that I just installed and which miraculously actually works) and stick that above my desk. Moodling... I do loads of that!

Anonymous said...

Writers write, schedule
or no schedule.
If you have to force yourself
to writer, I wonder where the
writer is inside.

Terry Finley

Sarah Salway said...

How fascinating - your blog post and the comments. It makes me wonder if I do automatically plan my day differently when I write a novel, as opposed to short stories or poems. Writing a novel does need some kind of structure for me, not least because of the chaos involved in thinking about it - for the first third anyway - and having to hold on to that. Whereas even if I don't know where a short story is going, there's more safety involved. Who was it who said that writing a novel is like driving a car in the dark without headlights - you have to trust you will reach your destination.
Moodling - oh, how much I love that!

Tania Hershman said...

Terry, thanks for dropping by, I am trying not to find your comment depressing, but I think you meant it in the most positive way!

Sarah - that's very interesting, that you feel there is more safety in short stories. The quote about driving a car in the dark without headlights both terrifies and intrigues me. Maybe I should try it!