Do All Writing Days Have To Be Productive Ones?

Originally Posted: April 19, 2010

Do all writing days have to be ‘productive’ ones? I am forever reminding my students of the importance of showing up on the page, by which I mean you must, as a writer, fight the good fight, log in the hours, sit your butt in the chair–if not on a daily basis, then at least for few decent chunks a week. But often, new writers will ask me, ok– but what then? What if I show up and nothing happens? What if I come to the page, poise my fingers to the keyboard, and the story just isn’t available that day? Or the writing feels dry, hackneyed and idiotic? What if I end up writing my grocery list, or pulling at the hairs on my chin or reworking the same tired, over-worked paragraph of dialogue five, ten, fifteen times? Sometimes, well, that’s just ok.

Walter Mosley once wrote that the most important thing is to re-enter, each day the ‘dream of the work,’ because re-entry is essential to keep it alive for another 24 hours. He said that nothing we create is art at first. It’s simply a collection of notions–a dream that reality fights against. That in order to keep it going, we must revisit it on a daily basis, no matter for how long. I like to remind myself of this when I have a writing day like today, when I accomplished several pages that went straight to the recycling bin.

Another thing I ask myself is whether or not I’m allowing the story to tell itself. Am I truly open to what wants to occur on the page? Whatever wild, random image, event or snippet of conversation might want to shape itself into the piece? Will I allow myself to go into the head of a 14-year old Puerto Rican boy if that’s what the story dictates? Or am I trying too hard to control it? Thinking I know the answers rather than allowing the story to unfold, which is always preferable.

My friend Peter Levitt always said, Follow your joy. Write what you love. Yes, it’s good to know what your characters want, what motivates them, where the story is heading, but perhaps even more important to know about your own desires, fears and obsessions, so that they can infuse and enliven your work. And besides, it’s more fun that way.

Posted by: Dori

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