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Writing About Writing

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In a single working weekend, two questions came up, again and again.

I collected quotes for dozens of years. In that collection, curated and collated, I had one quote — dubious provenance — about trying to figure out how a writer works, or why.

Pink Cake

pinkcake cover

Kindle Edition

    ISBN-13: 978-1434805751
    A Commonplace Book (full text PDF & cut quotes PDF)

One year, my sister gave me a copy of the The Artist’s Way, and I’m slightly pink to admit, I let that copy go, at some point. Living all those years in a trailer park, I had to keep my library manageable.

Part of the book’s premise, I’ve heard referenced time and again, is the thought that an artist gets up and writes — free hand — for several pages in the morning.

Many years before, an MFA teacher, he was my employee at the time, he told me the secret was, “To write in the morning, before you pee.” Exact quote.

Early as a struggling writer, I assumed that the best work was done late at night, under the midnight moon.

    How to avoid the rut?

While one of my earliest published stories was, indeed, borne out of one weird night’s (something), originally, the polish comes with a certain workman-like mechanical application of energies.

The mechanics of how to be a writer.

Write. Write every day.

Preferably, and most of the famous novelists agree, write first thing in the morning.

Every day.

Combining the idea of that employee’s early advice, then layering it with the Artist’s Way daily “pages,” and finally? Another professor, he was teaching writing, but his character in a novel, recurrent theme, that character wrote four typescript manuscript pages, every morning.

The teacher, the professor, he suggested the same. I tired that in his workshop, and it got to be habit. While I’m abysmal at using a real typewriter, I can’t type, when I work with a keyboard? Four manuscript pages, typed, 12 point type, double spaced? Should be right around 1,200 words. At least a thousand, assuming a minimum of 250 words per page.

So the mechanics are simple. My last two or three semesters in school, I wrote 4 pages a day, when possible. Since then, I’ve turned out at least three novel length manuscripts. Of that, two of them barely qualify as exercises, and the last one is presently shelved after hundreds of rejections.

I use that same methodology when I write horoscopes, aiming for the “4 page” minimum. I found balance when I had to, half dozen years ago, maybe further back. The constraints of business, and a temporarily dwindling market, I took a part-time job to make ends meet.

Get up and write, frequently before I would make morning water. Then I’d go to work for the rest of the day. Lasted almost a year at that. Meant I was serious about writing, which wasn’t bringing in much money, but the horoscopes have been non-stop.

I write to amuse myself. I write to figure things out. I write because I can’t not write. Getting paid is just a bonus.

I’ll get up at the ass-crack of dawn, if need be, to fulfill that internal need to write. The mechanical part is simple: write. Write every day. When a story starts, see it all the way through the first time. Write to the end, then go back and polish.

Four manuscript pages a day. Good days? I can do 20, but the goal is that thousand words.

As an astrology author, though, I’ve found it necessary to not write — professionally — when Mercury is Retrograde. Makes for a natural ebb and flow, and makes me eager to write.

It’s a simple process. Not complicated.

Is it easy? Try it.

    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book XI —
    XXVII. In matter of writing or reading thou must needs be taught before thou can do either: much more in matter of life. ‘For thou art born a mere slave, to thy senses and brutish affections;’ destitute without teaching of all true knowledge and sound reason.

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