Thursday, December 27, 2012

Off the Shelf

Writing advice books are like diet books. They all say "here's this thing I tried and it worked for me, so it must work for you too." Wouldn't it be nice if that were the case? But, the truth is, just like how-to-lose weight, all you can really get from how-to-write books is "Here's this thing that worked for me. You're welcome to try it. No guarantees." That's fine. That's fair. As long as you're trying, you are bound to find something that works.

I've only read a small handful of instructional books. There are a few more sitting on my shelf, but I've been deterred from going too in depth, because while some books are helpful and inspiring (Hello, Stephen King) many of them are just collections of  "you can do it too" trope. There is, however, one thing that every book, every guest speaker, every fellow writer seems to agree on; in order to be a writer you have to write. Don't just think about it. Don't just dream about it. Definitely, don't just read about it. Put your butt in the chair, your fingers to the keyboard and write. Sounds like pretty solid advice to me, but I think there is still some validity in reading the occasional instructional manual. Even if all you get from it is a renewal of inspiration, then you've done something good with your time.

If you're taking a break from the keyboard or if you're just looking for something to help you refocus, here's a list of a few instructionals that I've really enjoyed. If you have any to add, please chime in.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
How to Write What You Want & Sell What You Write by Skip Press

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Procrastination Station: Work, Play, Work

I have been a bad bad writer. Not because my writing itself is bad (that's still up for discussion), but because I haven't been writing. Every how-to-write book that I've read ends in the same sentiment; sit down and write. It's the only solid advice that is universal to every writer and I've been ignoring it for well over a week. Not acceptable! As a form of self punishment, I have to fess up to whatever is keeping me away from my manuscript and this time it's work, play, and more work.

Work, my bill-paying job that is, takes up 60-70 hours of my time every week. It's just one of the perils of working in television. If you can't hack it with the schedule, then you can't hack it in the industry. I knew that going in, so I'm ok with it, but the number of hours isn't the only problem. It's also the mental exhaustion that comes from being the person that helps the creative types accomplish their goals.  When I was in school, one of my professors told me, "film making is problem solving," and he was absolutely right. That's the bulk of what I do, and I like it. I get a charge from developing and successfully executing a plan. It's the same thing that makes me love plotting a story, but when I get home, all of my mojo is gone and there is nothing worthwhile to put on the page. How do people do it? Writers come from all walks of life. There are doctors, lawyers, nurses, and all other manner of in-demand professionals who manage to write, publish and promote their work, so there must be a way.

Weekends are my prime time for writing. I usually have the better part of at least one day when I can sit down, focus, and do some real work. Last weekend - nothing. I didn't edit or add even one word. And what, you might ask, kept me away from something that is so important to me? Georgia Football (Go Dawgs!) and fancy dinner. Instead of putting in the time on my manuscript, I spent four hours in a bar screaming and barking (it's a DAWG thing) at a television and then drinking, laughing and eating with co-workers. But, there's nothing wrong with having a little fun, right? I don't want to be a hermit writer who never interacts with the outside world. Again, I ask - how do people do it? Surely not every successful writer has quit his or her full-time job and shunned all socialization for the sake of writing. Think of all of the disturbing and twisted work we as readers would be subjected to if published works were coming from personalities that only existed at a keyboard.

From what I can tell, this time management issue is a pretty normal writer problem, but how do we fix it without moving home with our parents or spending all of our time alone in a room with nothing but a blank page to keep us company? If you've got the answer, please, PLEASE share it. If you don't, join the club.