It’s not a race

I recently read a post from a young writer who complained she was unable to maintain the energy necessary to finish a novel. She used the word “bored” a lot in the post, and wondered if she was doomed to be a short story writer instead of a novelist (her tone, not mine… I love short stories, I write them, read them, hang them on my wall, give them to people as gifts, so please… no hate mail).
What surprised me most about her post was that she complained that on a recent Saturday she had written for about four hours and wasn’t pleased with any of what she’d written.
Four hours.
If I had four uninterrupted hours I would assume that either I was dead or my family had deserted me. Hell, I’d worry if I had twenty uninterrupted minutes.
I was thinking about this writer’s post as I finished up my morning writing on the train into Manhattan. I’ve been under the weather for about two weeks now and it’s thrown my entire life into disarray, so getting back into my habit and getting a good hour(+) of work in felt good. I put my journal away as we reached 42nd Street and the young woman’s concern about her boredom, lack of energy, and inability to finish popped into my head and I couldn’t help but feel I might know what the problem is:
This is not a dash, it’s a marathon.
As I mention this old cliche the fable of the tortoise and the hare may pop into your head, but I think a more appropriate fable is the ant and grasshopper. Some may think “gathering food ain’t like writing,” but tell that to a writer. Put in the work every day and when winter comes you’ll have your novel. It’s not about finishing it in a weekend, or a week or even during November. It’s the daily chore you long to do. It’s the habit, like a drug.
“Oh, I can quit any time.”
“Really? Then put down the pen. Put it down…”
“O-okay… see? I put it down…”
“All right, now… step away from the keyboard.”
“No.”

I used to think that if I didn’t have three or four uninterrupted hours I couldn’t get any work done. “It takes me a while to warm up,” I said. Yeah, right. Now I warm up in about half-a-sentence, and I realize that if I don’t warm up in that half-sentence or even a half-page or two or four pages it doesn’t matter. Revision is where the work takes place. The writer who is concerned about “not having the drive” to finish, or who becomes bored with her own story may simply be looking for a work ethic that doesn’t exist. She may be buring herself out by doing four hour marathon writing sessions that are like chiseling words into granite because it’s not fun. A little work every day, fun sessions where you leave on a high note and want to keep going but leave it for the next day as a great starting point, that’s how you build your novel.
I hope she doesn’t stop trying. And I hope she doesn’t beat herself up for having to learn the hard way how to do it.

One thought on “It’s not a race

  1. First, I’m glad you’re back and feeling better. Second, this was a great post. It’s so true. I usually end up writing for about two hours at a time. It just naturally happens that way. I can and have written for longer stretches, but like you mentioned I am left drained and frustrated. But when I do a couple of hours at a time I am usually surprised by how quickly the pages add up.

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