Writing No Matter What

I always get a kick out of aspiring writers who whine about not having the time to write, or not having enough "peace and quiet." Professional writers know they have to write with whatever time they have, regardless of the conditions.  This is especially true in television, where you need to generate a new script every week. You can’t wait to be in the mood to write — you just have to do it. A deadline is a deadline and you have to meet it.  It’s also true in journalism and in the book world. Here’s a good example from the recent experience of novelist Joseph A. West, who had a mere six weeks to write his latest GUNSMOKE novel and wouldn’t even let a hurricane slow him down.

Hundred-mile-an-hour winds went
right over our roof and we were without electricity for eight days. My wife, a
resourceful woman, mail-ordered a manual typewriter that we were assured would
be delivered overnight. It arrived three weeks later. In the meantime, the staff
here at the condo complex found an old natural gas generator in the
basement that dates from the 1950s. They hooked up my laptop to the
infernal thing and I got to work immediately, having by then only lost
only a couple of days.
The temperature down there in the bowels of the building was about 120
degrees, the fumes were yellow, malodorous and choking, and I had to stop
every 30 minutes to let the damned generator cool down. "Otherwise you’ll burn
down the whole fucking building," I was told by one irate
tenant .
Were the words I was writing good or bad? At the time, gassed as I
was, I didn’t know. But, oh, the colors!
Finally the lights came on again and I got cranking and finished the book
in the allotted time. My editor, bless him, gave me a hearty, "Well done."
It was an interesting experience, but not one I’d care to repeat any time
P.S. We returned the manual typewriter with a very nasty note.

As Joseph says, his story simply shows that "the life of the wretched scribe is not an easy one." But what the story shows me is the enormous dedication it takes to be a professional writer. Too few aspiring writers realize just how much it takes to achieve, and then sustain, a career as a  professional writer.  We have a lot to learn from guys like Joseph West.

5 thoughts on “Writing No Matter What”

  1. And here I was, whining softly (to myself) about only having 4 months to write a book. I am now in awe, and will no longer whine softly (even to myself). I did finish, by the way, and have the bitten nails to prove it.

  2. I have 90 days to write each of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK books, which I have to do in my free time when I’m working on a script or producing a TV show. Four months would be a luxury.

  3. So true. Many times it feels better to have written than to actually write, but a professional knows that you just have to do it. I learned my discipline in TV news where your story was needed, finished, by news time, period. That has forever eliminated writer’s block for me and made me appreciate the luxury I have of actually re-writing.

  4. I had two books to write in 2004, three books in 2005, and they all got done. Three more this year, and they’ll get done too. More time would be such a luxury, but that’s not always how it works when you’re writing on contract. You just learn to approach it in an organized manner (and it helps to be an insomniac! ~grins~).

  5. Yeah, but…
    Remember this one?
    “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” (Flaubert, I think.)
    About a year ago, I got substantially flamed (in the comments on a different blog) when I disagreed with the generally held idea that it was better to get up in the middle of the night to write if “inspired.” My position was, and is, that it’s better to make a note if absolutely necessary, but then to get back to bed. In other words, writing should be woven into the rest of one’s life so that it fosters health and moderation and sanity and clean dishes, and not some sort of demanding obsession that makes everything else go haywire.
    Certainly, the situation is different for those who are making money at the job than for those of us who are still sporadically freelancing or aspiring, but I think there’s still some overlap. Personally, because of a suite of neurological disabilities, most of which kick in big time if I don’t get enough sleep, staying up late to write literally means I can’t walk without falling down the next day — hardly a viable situation in the long term.
    And, then there are all those women who work outside the home full-time, but are still the sole cooks/housekeepers/kid minders (i.e. their husband doesn’t want to “help with *her* work”) the minute they get home. Obviously, the care & feeding of dependants takes priority over working on the book, especially if there’s no one else around to do it. (The West example is telling — yes, he was cranking it out under difficult circumstances, but he wasn’t trying to get kids washed and fed at the same time. In fact, he even had a “staff” around to order that manual typewriter for him. Must be nice.)
    It’s that whole “room of one’s own” deal, guys. Sometimes a lack of productivity has to do with honest-to-gosh, immediate daily injustice, not with a lack of dedication.


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