Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend who asked me how the writing was going. From the start of this endeavor, my answer to that question would’ve been different with each passing day. Responding to the question yesterday, though, I realized how much the answer has evolved. I’ve arrived at a point of understanding some immutable realities of big-project writing, which include knowing that the learning process will continue, and I’ll continue to grow and adapt.
I said to my friend that the writing is hard. It’s harder than any work I’ve done in my career of sitting behind desks in the professional capacities I’ve filled, and it’s led me to learn a lot about myself that I wasn’t expecting to learn.
Not to my surprise, I’m also learning a lot about the writing process in the framework of a serious commitment, though I am surprised by the extent of this education. For instance, I didn’t suspect that writing would demand more thinking work than actual writing work. For me, the most significant work happens when my fingers are nowhere near a keyboard. In the last six months, I’ve spent endless hours thinking and strategizing, researching and making decisions, trashing those decisions and making new ones.
One stereotypical image of a writer’s life is a frustrated writer sitting at a desk, perhaps with a case of writer’s block or blank page syndrome, as you will, and a wastepaper basket across the room. The writer types, rips the page from the typewriter, crumples it up, and throws it in the direction of the basket. At the end of the day, the basket is full to overflowing with trashed balls of paper, and the writer is still sitting at the typewriter, surrounded by more balls of paper scattered on the desk amongst empty coffee mugs and tufts of yanked-out hair.
We have computers now, so if I had a wastepaper basket on the other side of my writing room, it would be filled to overflowing with discarded decisions and ideas and word choices. I would be buried up to my throat in heaps of writing debris left in the wake of my learn-as-I-go process, strategies trashed along with my premature glee at having surmounted some impasse.
Writing (as a primary occupation) is not a nine-to-five. It’s a 24/7 job, and one has to be self-motivated. I’m working in my head when I’m in the shower and in the car. I’m working while I’m pacing around the house, and when I’m talking “to my cat.” I know it sounds funny, but some of my conversations with Nenette and Cita have resulted in big progress gains. Fur-babies are excellent soundboards; talking through problems with them has produced many a solution. For me, at least 40% of the writing work is thinking work. (Okay, in all honesty, I do talk to myself more now than ever.)
Some days, I write for four to six hours. Some days, I write for 10, 20, 30 minutes. And a day with no writing at all isn’t a day off. A day with no writing is a day of thinking work, and it’s exhausting. The whole project is exhausting. I have sparks of inspiration at midnight and sparks of inspiration before the sun rises. I’m up at 5:30am every day, if not earlier. My posts in this blog have been more likely to be late since quitting my nine-to-five, and I’m still not sleeping enough.
But I’m not complaining. I love this work. It’s my passion, my art, my livelihood, and by that, I mean the thing that makes me feel alive. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m grateful that I’m able to do it full-time. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement lent by family and friends, especially by Callaghan.
I suppose all writers live this way… obsessed with their projects day and night, agonizing over the smallest details. All artists, may I add.
Here’s what an honest pie chart representing my writing “day” looks like:
A few points about the chart!
- The chart represents my main-project writing day. It doesn’t include blogging and other writing.
- “Thinking” includes NOT thinking. I find it necessary to not think about the writing for a period of time so that I can return to it with a clear head.
- “Procrastinating” doesn’t feel so much like procrastinating, since my mind is working on my project while I’m doing things around the house that need to get done, anyway.
- None of this is to say that there are never times that I’m not working. I do my share of errands, appointments, lunches out, social media, etc.
I can stop thinking about my project when I’m at the gym. I can stop thinking about it when I’m engrossed in a book or in a movie or an episode of some television series or another. I can stop thinking about it when I’m with Callaghan. I can leave the project behind to be in those moments.
The short answer to the question How is the writing going? is “The writing is hard. But it’s going well.”