Monday, September 27, 2010

Every single day. Also, questions for Lydia Davis

There's another aspect of my current novel revision that I didn't mention in the previous post, but which has come to seem very important to me over the past ten (bloggingless) days. In the past, especially when I have been teaching, I have tended to revise in four-hour blocks of time only on days when I could set four hours aside. This generally equated to three days a week of rather fast-paced work, which I accomplished in the service of some deadline (usually arbitrary) that I imposed upon myself.

This time around, I have changed two things. One, I have no deadline ("sometime next year" is all I have told anyone) for finishing. And two, I am working every single day. This includes, say, Tuesdays, when I have, ideally, six hours to make real progress, as well as Wednesdays, when I get up at 5 and have perhaps a single hour.

What I am finding is that the one-hour sessions might well be as important as the six-hour ones--sometimes more so, even if very little (or even no) writing gets done. The key seems to be to do something every day, to keep my mind from straying too far from the book. I've written here before about the difficulty of holding an entire novel in one's head at once--it is possible for some people, and I feel I've been able to do it every now and then. But it is hard, and the more time you spend away from the thing, the more you need to recover when you return.

This method--work daily, even if it's only time enough to stare at the screen and think--is quite revalatory. I feel more connected to the book, even when I'm not really accomplishing anything substantive. We shall see if it pans out in the end.

Finally, the great Lydia Davis is coming to Cornell this week, and I will be posting my podcast interview with her here on Thursday. If there's anything you're dying to ask her, post it in the comments, and I will try to throw it into my interview.

photo: raccoons watching me work the other day.


christianbauman said...

Couldn't agree more, John. Due to current circumstances, on my current project(s) my time for writing tends to be longer chunks but with large gaps between. I find it takes hours just to get my head back into it. Was much easier to stay focused when I worked every day, even if (like you) I was only getting an hour with not much done. At least I was thinking about the book every day. Now I spend much of my "writing" time just trying to get re-groove with the book, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Question for Lydia:
What are some of the best constraints you put on yourself for writing that resulted in a really good story?

Anonymous said...

Oooh, good one. Thanks!

Shauna said...

Those raccoons are creeping me out!

Hope said...

This doesn't surprise me about you, John. This book is a departure, I think, in so many ways.

Also, I have a laminated strip near my desk, given to me by the late great Don Murray, that reads "nulla dies sine linea" -- never a day without a line -- and I of COURSE don't write every day, but it's aspirational.

He was one of my heroes. He wrote some of the best books on teaching writing ever:


Anonymous said...

Gracias, will read!

Hugo Minor said...

That was me who was anonymous yesterday. I wanted to get my question in, but I was at work, and I fear they record my every move.

gvNL said...

My first post after visiting here for about two years now - I'm from NL so pardon me if my English is a bit wobbly. I am a writer of short stories and just had my first story published in a magazine. I started writing two year ago, after many many years of musings and false starts. Now, with three young kids and a four day job I have only one day I can work free and undisturbed. That day is cherished but I feel the real work is done the other days. I write while commuting by train, one hour in the morning, sometimes a few hundred words, sometimes a few, but even if I just take out a comma and put it back, this daily hour keeps the work alive. The work accumulates, the story stays in the centre of my attention and - ideally - everything I see or hear around me is in some way or another related to it. So, more than anything else I have found out that writing is like a muscle, and like a muscle it has to be used everyday or it atrophies.
Btw, this is a wonderful site. It has just the right combination of discussions about craft, writers, books and has led me to reading writers I otherwise wouldn't probably have heard of. And of course, one of the attractions is that it's slighly exotic for me. So, thnx!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, and welcome to the blog!