Monday, December 13, 2010

Mechanic vs Alchemic

I have been thinking about frameworks.  I was talking to a writer friend yesterday about deadlines.  He is a prolific journalist and absolutely, non negotiably, needs the eleventh hour rush of adrenaline to get it done.  His process--what a horridly artsy yet weirdly sausage factoryish sort of word--requires a superimposed structure.  His 1200 word article will happen as soon as it has to happen--has to happen because of an external rather than internal mechanism.

Lots of writers work this way. It takes huge amounts of confidence.  To know that at any point you can flick a switch, turn the cranks and there will be work you are willing to show someone--amazing.

I am not like that.

"I don't need deadlines," I told him, sounding provincial and self contained.

"Sure you do," he said.  "You just get in there first.  A deadline is just a way of making yourself write when worry you can't.  You have that."

And he was right.  I have a strict, self sustaining, near ritualistic process of writing.  I have a mechanical system of getting the words onto the page:

-Turn on the computer before I do anything else.
-Write four pages.
-Stop after four pages.
-Write even if I have nothing to write.
-Take one day off a week.

And creatively, I am equally and bizarrely strict but there is only one rule:

A storytelling bumble bee of random, elusive, hazy, unformed thought will go flying over the even squares of my brain.  Follow it.  Do not worry about the destination, the end of the story, the end of the sentence.  Follow it.  It is going somewhere fun.

My journalist friend was right.

And... terrific news!  Sharon Kay Penman just wrote to me and wants to do an interview before Exit the Actress comes out in February.  I am over the moon!


  1. "process--what a horridly artsy yet weirdly sausage factoryish sort of word" love this!!

    And thank you for all of your support. You are a dear. So glad I found you!

  2. you are so sweet! i know it is such an icky feeling but if your lovely book found one happy home it will find another! fingers crossed!

  3. priya! i am like your journalist friend. it feels like pulling teeth and sends me running the other direction when i think about writing every day like clockwork. i need external deadlines, people waiting for things, writing groups, etc. anything to put a demand on someone needing something to read. it's not that i can't write otherwise, but i do my best work that way. and i by and large prefer it over the daily grind. it has made me question over and over again if i am really a writer, since most writers i believe write EVERY DAY. i write every day in other ways though, journaling, long notes to people, long emails... i wonder if your journalist friend writes all day in other ways and does not consider it "writing". you are still exercising that way. works for me.

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  5. i think he does do that. he emails and texts but writing is working and that is separate. you practice your craft all the time.

    you are a writer! i think it is just the difference in what motivates one to take chances and go out on literary limbs. i would much rather push myself and then have the space and time to like it, not like it, revise it, delete it... you are definitely a writer sweetie!!!!!!!

  6. Hm... I like that rush of air as a deadline approaches, but only if I am already well on my way to being happy with what I am creating!

    And well done - congrats on the interview!

  7. jayne, i agree--if you love what you are writing, meeting a deadline cleanly and precisely is huge fun. but when the writing is going less well... ick.

  8. Interesting... I am somewhere in between you and your friend, Priya. I love external deadlines and rush toward them just as your friend does, all eleventh hour bursts, but in the absence of them, I still have a series of deadline stand-ins in place, my rituals that mean some work gets done regardless. Blogging is part of that for me, part of the discipline of production.


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