This day we write (Do I have to?)

Ashcombe-Maze-AustraliaHelga’s post #111:

If you have followed this blog’s last few posts you will sense a fierce debate in the making – a cauldron of strongly held opinions concocting a brew that could leave you with a serious case of heartburn.

What’s rather fascinating is the passion of how these opinions are voiced on such familiar topics. Sure, they are a good read – a damn good read – but there is nothing really original about them. Opinions of a similar ilk as those smoldering on the 5 writers blog have long been staunchly proclaimed, even defended with evangelical fervor, by well-known authors, writing gurus as well as online hucksters vying for the money of untold masses of unpublished wannabe authors.

The issue at hand is this:

To become a good writer you must

– Write. Even if it’s shit. Or forget being a writer (Silk’s camp)

– But: Writing crap (toned-down version of Silk’s colorful image), alone, will not make you a better writer. Neither will a slavish routine (Paula’s camp)

Let’s recap what’s been put on the table for discussion:

Silk quite passionately argues for writing no matter what. She puts it this way:

“You must write. …. Even if you’re too stressed, or too sad, or too worried, or too tired to care. Even if you’re consumed by some other seductive passion that demands your attention. Even if you fear your words have left you. You must write anyway. Or forget being a writer. Do something else.”

A little harsh. Let’s hear Paula’s rebuttal:

Why write even if you have nothing to say? What’s the point writing crap? She successfully argues as such: “Finding the time, the place the space the motivation to craft better fiction will make you a better writer – even if you don’t do that everyday. I’d rather spend five hours a week, all at one sitting, working on my novel rather than the artificial ‘write every day’.

Then peacemaker Joe weighs in on the debate. “It doesn’t matter. Write every day if that motivates you. Personally, I find that such a goal is good enough to keep me going in the short term, but not good enough for a long term project like a novel. For that, I need to be in love with the idea or the characters or a really comfy chair.”

In other words, do what you want, whatever works best for you. Just keep at it.

Wise words, Joe. Diplomatic too. Totally common sense. Nothing more needs to be said.

We can probably agree that every one of the three posters offers morsels of good advice. No, even some bloody good advice. But I do admit I bristled just a tad when I read what a writer must commit to in order to succeed.

Would anyone really write during times of severe stress? I doubt that many writers would go to such extremes. Personally, I know I am not able nor find the motivation to pursue my writing at a time when life has thrown me a curve. When my energy and attention is needed elsewhere. I know this from personal experience. My writing brain goes AWOL at times like this. Shut down until further notice. Does that mean I should forget about being a writer?

Let’s skip across the muddy field to the opinions offered at the other camp. Such as, write only when you have something to say. Don’t write for its own sake if it’s just crap.

Let’s look at it a little closer. I read that post and I read it again, as much as for the words on screen as for the subtext. On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. I was tempted to proclaim ‘Eureka’. Until I was trying to glean the hidden part of the iceberg. The first red flag was the ‘crap’ part. Sure, it sounds reasonable you should only write quality stuff. But if you really continue to write routinely and regularly (be that every day, or skip one here and there), you won’t be writing crap even if you tried. You will get better at the craft, just like regularly practicing tennis or golf. The second flag was even more poignant. At the risk of having unkind words hurtled at me, I say it anyways: this opinion, I even call it a philosophy, is full of holes. I suspect it’s to justify the super active lifestyle of its author that has, by necessity (or rather choice) relegated writing to a low priority. I suspect that there are elements in this post that could well be an excuse for not writing. I agree that “amassing a treasure box of memories, anecdotes, characters and ideas” like a squirrel gathering acorns has its rewards.

But in the end something’s gotta give. That’s where we come full circle to Silk’s proclamation: “Or forget being a writer. Do something else. Find another route to spiritual, emotional, intellectual fulfillment.”

Sorry, dear friends, it had to be said. I didn’t mince words because we writers are supposed to say it as we see the world. Our world. I am of course fully expecting a rebuttal. All in a good day’s work. Even for a writer on AWOL.

So in which camp will I pitch my tent? Once I pick my morsels from each I will just hang out on the sidelines. I think I’ll sniff around a bit longer for a few more wells of wisdom and common sense.

(Is there room in your tent, Joe?)

10 thoughts on “This day we write (Do I have to?)

  1. It strikes me that things must get fiery when you five get together on your writing retreats 🙂 I’m with you Helga in that when I’m very stressed the writing goes out of the window, but then afterwards, I’m perhaps at my most creative. I’ve definitely come down on the side that you don’t have to write every day, but that you do have to write to be a writer.

    • Oh yes, our meetings are always passionate. But because know each other so well we can express what is ultimately useful even if it’s not always quite what we hope to hear. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Great post Helga. I suspect there might be a post coming that might make you bristle even more 🙂
    One of the best things I personally have come across for writers is Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages exercise – where in you can (must) write every day without censure – write 3 pages longhand to get all the crap out and then see what flows from that. Don did it and it kinda, sorta changed our lives 🙂 And as I write this I’m thinking I should take my own advice – get back to Morning Pages to see if writing every day, writing all the crap and nonsense out, will lead to a space where more creative thoughts can flow onto the page.

  3. You’ll never come to a consensus on this, Helga, because of the individuality of people. No two writers are going to approach their writing in exactly the same way. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another. I’m a write-every-day person — even if it’s crap, it’s like practising the piano; the regularity keeps my writing genes supple. Even in times of great stress I write. I need to, as therapy. I sincerely believe if we want to be writers, we’ll write. If we enjoy dabbling in writing, we’ll dabble only when we feel like it. Neither is right or wrong. Our goal and passion will determine the method we choose and what works best for us.

    • Oh I know, Carol! Consensus is hard to come by among writers. Not a bad thing because we writers are a pretty tenacious bunch and too much agreement stifles creativity. I am glad to hear that for you, writing under stress is therapeutic. It sometimes works for me too, but only to let it all out. Making progress on my novel on the other hand does not work for me during difficult times. Thanks for your insights.

  4. Ah Helga, you are the master (mistress?) of stirring the pot — whether it’s full of one of your delicious concoctions in the kitchen, or the stew of words and ideas we mix together on these pages! I will indeed have a sidebar rebuttal post this week on the ersatz “debate” about whether one must write every day … a prescription, if you go back and read my original post, that I did not espouse. I owe everyone a clarification, I think!

    • Silk, no need for me to read your post again (I read it three times and loved it), because I was aware when I wrote my post that you did not propose writing every day. That’s why I was careful not to refer to it. BTW, thanks for your compliment about my kitchen skills, which sadly remain under-utilized for now. But stirring the pot when it comes to words is never far from my mind.😏

  5. Hmm, here’s where I come from. Write because you want to. That doesn’t mean you don’t write when you’re not feeling like it, but it does mean that unless you get satisfaction of some kind from the activity and the result, I wouldn’t bother. I don’t think simply writing will make you better, some people manage to write crap all their lives. I do think most people can learn to write by doing so, submitting to friends and professionals, listening to what they say, and reading, reading, reading.

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