Thursday, March 8, 2007

How Do You Do That Thing You Do? Matt Curran Part III

Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer. It's like making wallpaper for the Sistine Chapel.

--Kurt Vonnegut

Matt has posted the last installment of his thoughts on the writing process over on his blog, and this time it's mainly about how to keep at it. "The discipline thing," as George Bush, Sr. would have put it. (Whatever causes his son's inability to speak in coherent English is apparently genetic.)

The discipline thing is probably the main thing in writing, as Vonnegut hints above. Getting a novel published tends to be difficult, but the number-one reason I've found that writers can't get their novels published is because they don't finish them. (Which is a good thing, as the world is already swamped in unpublished manuscripts. Imagine if everybody completed what they started.)

Like all productive writers, Matt has developed techniques for keeping his butt in his chair and keeping the world at bay. He uses music--not only does it shut out the world, but the headphones act as a warning signal to Those Who Would Intrude. I'm not sure how many writers do this, but novelists as different as Stephen King (heavy metal) and Carolyn See (Van Morrison, Chet Baker) have both mentioned music as a way of creating a space to work within. (I can't write to music, though I dearly wish I could; it interferes with the rhythm of my thought, and my thought is typically only firing on three cylinders to begin with.)

I suspect that fending off distractions is a problem for all writers. But Matt brings up a problem I've never seen diagnosed before--the distraction of new story ideas. Though I can't recall seeing this problem mentioned before, I'd bet most of us have been confronted with it. In the depths of a novel, suddenly ideas for other stories crop up. Other, better stories. Stories that would be far more fun to write. Stories that are smarter, bigger, slicker, both more marketable and yet more significant...

Robert Benchley said that anyone can do any amount of work, if it's not the work they're supposed to be doing at the time. This might be why some writers are so productive when they are cribbing writing time from work and family, but fall silent when at last they are financially successful enough to write full time and it becomes a job. Stolen time, like stolen fruit, tastes far sweeter.

So, write with the feeling that you're getting away with something. Maybe we are.

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