Why do you push yourself to write every day? Ten pages a day. A thousand words a day.
Why? Because an athlete needs to work out every day to maintain both her form and her excellence? Because the things you write for yourself in between commissions keep you in fighting form? Do they keep your brain limber and your emotions…emoting? Do keep you expressing all of that with the same fluid motion a ballerina comes to expect after years of training? Because you need to push forward on the project you’ve assigned yourself?
Why? What’s establishing this need? A drive inside you, or external pressure?
Do you play writing and your career as a writer as a short game, or a long one?
Every day, I see people beating themselves up over whether or not they’ve achieved a word count, a page count. An arbitrary/external goal. What does that do for the individual artist? Did Picasso count his success in brush strokes per day? Artistry is not mechanical; the muse can be tempted, but not commanded. What beauty suffers at the dripping maw of the beast Productivity?
And what about the days when the words come easily, when the flow is undisrupted and the narrative seems to be constructing itself? Some advice counsels against following your muse to the end of a path, and instead stop writing after a thousand words, to discipline themselves outside the offerings of their muse. Is voluntary self-muzzling any wiser than the flagellation that unfolds when one fails to produce on a schedule?
Artful writing isn’t industry, it’s craft and inspiration making real something that previously existed only in one’s mind. It’s creation. And like parents who sometimes have to try for longer than a few months to conceive a child, sometimes an author shouldn’t type words simply to meet the demands of an internal taskmaster.
Yes, write. Write emails. Write thoughts. Use your words, your tools. Keep them honed, like the physical athelete does her body. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t produce, and recognize that sometimes not producing is a valid component of a full process that deserves honor and respect.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had where I told an inquiring mind that I had decided to give myself time to live life, absorb it and process it, that I was trusting my creativity enough not to demand it give evidence of its existence on a daily basis. It’s a strange claim for a writer; our breed seems to live in never-ending fear that that spark of creativity will go out, and so we hoarde what sparks of inspiration we have and fan them into full-blown flames to satisfy external requirements. The inquiring mind disapproved. It was none of her business. I was brought to a point of feeling I had to defend the choice I had made regarding my process.
It was none of her business.
Sometimes it is all right to enjoy silence. To refill your tank. To gather inspiration and meaning and knowledge from the world around you. People will tell you this is not true.
There are times when this process takes longer than it does at other points. People will call this “writer’s block,” as if a picket line has been formed around the inspiration in your mind, as if you can do nothing to move through it. See art, read books, get outside, enjoy life. Don’t force something that isn’t there; instead, give it small channels through which it can express itself without pressure. It will come back to you.
It’s true that success takes discipline. It’s true. But is writing against your process an act of discipline, or an act of destruction? It’s application of the industrial model to art, certainly.
Raise your hand if you got into writing to become a machine.
Rachel Lynn Brody is a writer and artist currently living in NYC. She blogs about writing, self-publishing, theater and more at http://www.rlbrody.com. Her publications, including short stories and plays, can be found on her Amazon author page. Follow Rachel on Twitter @girl_onthego.