It is 05:45, Thursday December 10th, 2015, and I am at my computer in my flat above an Italian Restaurant, The Broadway, Thatcham, West Berkshire, UK.
This is Day Four (for me) of the Boot Camp “Advent Blast” where members strive to write as many pieces as possible between December 1st and 24th, then re-start December 27th “in January”. It is a Boot Camp tradition that January always begins on December 26th or 27th. The theory goes that otherwise we wait for the new year, probably have a hang-over and start hesitantly on the 2nd of January.
That is not the way to get ahead. The single most important aspect of Boot Camp is OUTPUT. That is because, in order to become a good writer, you must develop the writing habit, develop the writing muscles, develop the idea that “routinely” you can write 500, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 words a day, every day, an average day, seven days a week. I think it was Ray Bradbury who said that you need to write an awful lot of shit just to start to become a writer. I think he believed the turning point was a million words. I agree with that, and the last time I made an attempt to count my own output it was about three million words.
But there is another point about hard work. of course, just doing it makes the base-process a part of you. As Harlan Ellison once wrote, you should write until writing itself courses in your blood, but there is something else.
I don’t know much (i.e. anything) about Zen, or meditation. I know little about hypnosis, but I know that if you write-to-exhaustion, if you write until your finger-tips are painful, your back aches, your eyes are dry and really, really, you need a shower, “something happens”.
The brain, the psyche, the transient personality “shifts”, metamorphosis's into something new, mysterious, odd, angelic, and beautifully unpredictable. The inner light turns on, the unconscious becomes more powerful, and you can, you really can, become someone, something, else, a being capable of undoing dreams of surprising itself, of “becoming” of rising above itself, of entering a higher state. I could go on, but the way you test the truth of this is to actually fucking DO it, not for a day, not for a few days, but as a change in the way you take on the world.
A writer? The definition of “writer” is a person, who, on waking up thinks, plans, “When today am I going to find the time and space to write?” It doesn’t matter if there’s a wedding today, a funeral (unless it’s your own), you need to find the time to write. it’s what you do, it’s who you are.
A vacation is planned. Great, but when will you find the time to write? You tell your partner look, this isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. Maybe you say you’ll get up at 05:30 and write until seven o’clock, but you must, you just MUST get some writing in.
You don’t say, “I’m on holiday for two weeks. I won’t breathe.” Why, then, if you’re a writer would you say, for two weeks you are NOT a writer? It is what you do. It is what you are, and there are many very good reasons why, even as you lay in that hospital bed you should be writing. One day that hospital bed will be your home for the rest of your life. Will you think, over the pain, despite the realisation that this is it, “I wish I’d written less?
Something changes radically in the spirit when we write a lot, when we write hard, when we write to exhaustion, when this day is Day 77 of hundreds of days. Yes, there will be some days when you will write the most awful stuff. You will be convinced you have the intellectual capacity of a particularly dum donkey, the emotional insight of a rock, but even on those days, you are working out, growing the muscles, developing that incredible space between your ears (and another, deep in the gut, which may be, just may be, the soul.)
716 Words (06:11)
See? I meant, this morning to begin with a flash, a story somewhere between 500 and 1,200 words. That will come, but I started this diary, and quickly zoomed to 700 words, and now have decided to get to 1,000 before I stop to breathe, stop for a cup of tea.
And here’s the thing, here’s the thing that is so very hard to get across to new writers, to intermediates (and don’t get me started on those who think they’ve made it)… you really change when the work you are doing is routine, when what you are doing is being a writer. That, read casually, is “writing”, but it isn’t. “Being a writer” is a lot more than mere writing.
If you pop out a haiku once a month you are writing but is that being a writer? If you kick a football against a wall for fifteen minutes every Sunday, would you say, “I’m a footballer”? Nope. A footballer, lives, breathes, eats the game, it isn’t something s/he does, it’s what s/he IS. Until you get to the point where you know the difference, you are just playing at it. Next month it’ll be ceramics or maybe you’ll try painting. Or worse, you’ll pick up a box set of The West Wing and be doomed.
A writer wakes every day and wants to write.
A writer wakes every day and needs to write.
A writer, every day, if s/he can’t write, feels sick, withdrawn, unwell, unfulfilled.
971 Words (06:19)
That’s another thing about writing hard, writing a lot, writing, writing, writing (and reading). You get better, faster, slicker. I can’t touch-type, I two-finger type. Many years ago I went to typing classes (oh the pain!) and the teacher asked me why I was there. To get faster at typing, I said. She said I was already fast. true, it would be handy to be able to touch-type, but if speed of words onto pages is the thing (1,056 words right now 06:21)…. that’s 1,056 words in 36 minutes. I think 1,000 words in an hour is enough for anyone.
Incidentally a million words divided by 365 days a year is a little over 2,740 words a day (every day), so if we aim to write 3,000 words on a full day we can comfortably write a million words in a year.
A novel could be as short as 70,000 words. Typically (if there was a typically) a novel is 90-100,000 words. If you aim at a million and just 10% of your work is half-decent, that’s a novel. Think about that.
1,163 Words. it is 06:25. Time to start writing.