September 2, 2018
At the suggestion of my friend Cindy Watson (who runs the Muskoka Authors Association which I belonged to when I lived there), I recently attended a weekend workshop put on by Robert Rosenberg. He's one of Toronto’s top criminal lawyers, the author of several bestselling crime novels and is currently writing for a TV series as well as being half way through completing a feature film script. (How the hell he finds time to do all this I'll never know. I suggested to Cindy the man ought to write a book on time management!).
His presentation got me thinking about how, when and where I write.
First off, I'm one of those lucky stiffs who never faces "writer's block". So I'm never at a loss for words or for writing. Give me a keyboard and a bit of quietude and I'll sit down and scribe away. (Sadly, my once glorious, private-school-mandated cursive handwriting has gone to hell in a handcart so I must key in my thinking, not scribble – as Allan Fotheringham calls our noble trade.) I’m also not one of those “Oh, I must wait for the muse to visit me” kind of writers. I can sit down and just start typing words, and the ideas seem to flow. Sure, I may have to go back and edit the hell out of the first draft, but once you’ve got that prime version down, you’re away to the races.
As for where, I know that some writers feel the importance of the "special place" they have to write books. I guess my office is my special place, although I don't really think it's overly exceptional. But it's comfortable, quiet, and allows my two pups to snooze on the floor beside me while I type away to the strains of Miles Davis or Bill Evans or symphony in the background. It works for me. And I think this about that: if you're devoting hours to ruminating over how the place where you write has to be "just right", perhaps you're avoiding doing what you should be doing: writing!
I'm also not one for setting a goal focused on completing so many words in a set period of time. (I've never learned what happens to writers who do this and then fail: are they sent to the woodshed?) That kind of regulation would serve to stifle my creativity. I write when the mood strikes (which is typically every day). If I awaken at 3am with a killer idea, I'll throw on a T-shirt and pair of shorts, head downstairs to my office and begin pounding out the plot. There have likely been days when I've crafted more than 5,000 words, but I'm sure there have been others where my output's been limited to 500. The point is, I've said what I wanted to say and felt compelled to stop when I was tired of it. Works for me.
Henry Miller famously opined, "Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!" Hmmmm... 'Fraid I have to disagree Mr. M. That kind of strictness would override my productivity and drain away all the enjoyment I experience in writing. Even after all these years, I still love crafting composed concepts when the mood hits. Which, fortunately, seems to be often.
The satisfaction of producing quality writing is hugely rewarding to me. I'll admire a finely crafted sentence or a sharply defined descriptor the way I regard the female form: lovingly, respectfully, with admiration. More than that, writing's enjoyable, challenging and fun (if indeed being challenged is your idea of merriment). And truly, if you're not finding writing enjoyable, may I suggest you may want to consider a different line of work. Life's too short.
I'll leave the parting shot on this subject to William Faulkner since he's more succinct than I am: "I think anyone that spends too much of his time about his style, developing a style, or following a style, probably hasn’t got much to say and knows it and is afraid of it."