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Monica Byrne
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 08:45 am:   

Hello! I’m a n00b, just familiarizing myself with this message board. I’m delighted that this resource exists. I thought I’d pitch out a question that has been floating around in my mind lately...

About a year ago, I hunkered down to write, seeing as it’s all I ever really wanted to do. (Funny how it took me college, grad school, freelancing, and a public radio stint to realize that!) Initially, I set a rigorous schedule for myself: every month I should be 1) writing a story, 2) editing a story, and 3) [trying to] sell a story. This meant that I would write at least two hours a day, come hell or high water, and churn out stories like Asimov on speed.

But things didn’t work out that way! I found that the harder I “forced” a story, the more it suffered; rather like trying to make a flower grow by pulling it up. Instead, I sat down and waited, and watered the soil patiently; and eventually I wrote a beautiful story I’m very proud of.

So I find myself caught between two ideas; voiced, conveniently, by two of my favorite authors:

1. “So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, ‘Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write.’ There's no difference on paper between the two.” – Frank Herbert, quoted on the illustrious Wikipedia

2. “What is it that prevents the ideas and visions from finding their necessary underlying rhythm?...very often I think what keeps a writer from finding the words is that she grasps at them too soon, hurries, grabs; she doesn't wait for the wave to come in and break.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, The Wave in the Mind

Now to the question, which, given all this context, is pretty simple: As a writer, what is your daily practice?
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 09:15 am:   

Hi Monica,

I think each person is different. One important thing I think though, is to read 100 pages for every one you write. I don't mean every day, but over a lifetime.

There is so much worthless matter printed on paper in the world already, we need to be sure to either:

a) write things that are not worthless,

or

b) write things much more worthless than the rest.

The latter is actually much more difficult than the former.

In the end though the most effective way to write good prose is to drink very very very strong coffee or a high quality green tea and go at it.
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 - 11:05 am:   

I find, now that I'm in my sixth decade, that gingko biloba helps.

But my usual practice, when I'm working on a novel, is to write for two to three hours in the afternoon.

Matt Hughes
www.archonate.com/
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Frank M. Longo
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 03:19 pm:   

Hi!

Another newbie on the board!

I write at least 6 hours a day, whether it's polishing up a rough draft, rewriting a story that hasn't sold, or writing new material. Depending the day, I either start writing at 6am until noon, or from 3pm until 9pm. Sometimes, if I'm in the mood, I may write for many hours beyond that. I consider writing a 'second job', whether I sell something or not, and I apply the same discipline I would if I was being paid hourly.

My trick to dodging a block is to have 3 or 4 stories going at once. If I get a block on one, I can switch over to another, or go back and polish what I have already written.

I find my most productive writing is done when my SO is sitting next to me. It's good to have someone else reading while I'm writing to catch my spelling errors and occasional grammatical error.

Thanks for the gingko biloba tip, Matt. I, too, am in my 6th decade and the mind isn't what it used to be.
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Monica Byrne
Posted on Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 06:57 pm:   

Yes, Brendan, coffee sure helps! I'm a connoisseur of every coffee shop in the greater Chapel Hill area. (If you're ever coming through, the best thing you can get is an espresso shake at Caffe Driade. But the baristas grimace when you order it because it's such a pain to make; therefore, be sure to tip generously.)

My ideal writing life goes something like what I read Jhumpa Lahiri describe once: she writes in the morning, until noon; then after lunch she does errands or takes a nap; then after dinner she reads - or does other Artist Things, like seeing a play or movie. It sounds so perfect.

Of course, I still have a day job, and an acting/improv bug, so I have to compromise!
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 12:19 am:   

Yes, coffee was also Balzac's secret weapon. Of course he died relatively young from it (or so said the doctors).

Maybe the Ginko Balboa is better.

As for the baristas, they always grimace at me. I have gotten so used to ordering coffee in Italian that I feel completely lost in a US cofee shop. I remember last time the woman behind the counter thought I was crazy because I didn't want my coffee in a paper cup.
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Patch Mulberry
Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 11:00 am:   

I only write when there is a deadline attached to the piece; otherwise, I can't seem to get motivated! :-(

One reason I really like Pat's writing challenge is because of the deadline.
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Radu Eugen Romaniuc
Posted on Friday, August 03, 2007 - 02:45 am:   

Hello, Monica.
I am new around here too (well, newer then you!) and I also just started on writing. "Started" as in actually thinking about publishing.
I had alot of trouble with trying to respect a schedule. I have a day-job, and a family, so finding a reasonable window for writing is sometimes a tricky enterprise.
I tried to set up a working schedule of two hours dayily at first, 21.00 - 23.00, only to discover that I would sit infront of the blank page for the duration. In the first day I draw a fish. The fish was not happy.
After that I started to take notes everytime I felt something at work in the back of my head. That was annoying because I would suddenly leave a conversation to write furiously for half an hour...BUT that provided me with an interesting paragraph that proved to be the backbone of my first short story.
After I had that it seemed far easier to focus on writing even on a tight schedule. After two months I can turn on the "writer mode" much easier and I never leave my paper without words on it.
But I still remeber that feeling of frustration when I was staring for hours at the blank sheet of paper...I think it helped me to read various "How I write" essays, like the ones on Neal Gaiman's page or M John Harrison's page. It helped because it showed me how different writers are on that respect, and I grew confident I'll find my own flow.
I am sure you already found yours, good luck with your prose.
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Monica Byrne
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 08:05 pm:   

Hi Radu! Thanks for the input...yeah, I also have a day job. So I'm finding two hours a day to write, just like you; and setting aside that time even if it means I stare into space just dreaming up ideas, or write about my shoelaces, or something. Having a daily practice - much like meditation - is the important thing, whether or not the practice itself "feels productive" or not on a given day.

As for writing essays, my foundation is LeGuin's _The Wave in the Mind_ and _The Language of the Night_. I highly recommend them!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 - 12:10 pm:   

Hi, Monica.

I'm a high school teacher with three school-aged children, so my day life is pretty intrusive.

In 1999, though, after more than a decade of beating my head against the wall because I never felt productive enough (my goal was to do 1,000 words a day, but if I saw I didn't have enough time to do the thousand, I'd end up writing nothing), I reevaluated my work habits. What I decided was that I'd set the bar too high for myself. A thousand words a day was too high for me. So, I lowered it to 200 words a day, but I couldn't miss any days, and I haven't since I started in late '99. Two hundred words a day is 73,000 words a year, nearly a novel. I can do 200 words just before bed, during lunch, or during a boring faculty meeting (sorry for the redundancy there).

That's my work habit.
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Monica Byrne
Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 - 01:00 pm:   

Thanks, Jim! That's really insightful - especially because I realize I have the idea that I have to write during some sacred chunk of time in a sacred place. (And preferably with a mocha latte.) I like the idea of encouraging yourself to write whenever you have a free moment; and, committing to a realistic goal.

Also, totally admirable that you do this with a teacher job *and* a family. That amazes me. Keep writing!
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Sean Melican
Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 - 05:10 pm:   

Jim,

Out of curiosity, when you finish one story, do you have one waiting in the wings? How do you avoid a lull between finishing one story, and having another ready to be written?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 - 07:50 am:   

Since I can't miss a day, I always have the next one lined up, but that isn't much of a problem. My "to do" list for stories is more than a lifetime long now. It's the curse of thinking in a narrative mode all the time.
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Aaron Singleton
Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 - 05:17 pm:   

Ginko Balboa, LOL. Rocky's cooler new age brother.
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Elizabeth L
Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 - 05:37 pm:   

Hi Monica: I haven't had a professional sale yet, and I don't know if you're interested in what someone like me does, but I have a number of stories around, one in a slush pile at this very moment, and a few novels in the works.

My usual practice?

Wake up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head . . . Find my way downstairs and drink a cup, and looking up, I notice I am late . . . Get my coat and grab my hat, catch the bus in seconds flat . . . Find my way upstairs and have Starbucks, then somebody speaks and I go into a dream . . . aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Sorry. Couldn't resist. :-) Just listened to "A Day in the Life" and it's stuck in my mind.

Seriously, though. I have little time to write. On a typical day, I do get up and do the shower, dress, eat, get teenage daughter up and dressed and fed, take teenage daughter to school, go to work, work for four hours, write on my break if I can, drive home to give school-aged son lunch, eat lunch myself, drive back to work, work for four hours, write on my break if I can, drive to store to pick up groceries, fix supper, eat, clean up, do laundry, check on homework . . . and when I have time, I sit at my computer and read email, check out message boards, and then, I may read over what I wrote earlier, try to add to it, and then I tend to crash, watch the Simpsons, go to bed.

Rinse.

Repeat.

I work from outlines, and they are pretty free form, usually starting with a rough idea of the theme, the opening scene and final scene and some images of my characters, setting, etc. If it's science fiction, I do research first.

I currently have about a dozen short stories in various stages of undress and three novels, one that is almost done at 101,000 words and two that are around 30,000 and 60,000 respectively.

My goal is to write 500-750 words a day or equivalent per week. This summer has been spectacularly unproductive as I have not written anything new. All I have done is revision to existing writing. I have one short story in the slush at Asimov's and I am subbing chapters of my almost-finished novel to OWW for crits.
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Radu Eugen Romaniuc
Posted on Thursday, August 09, 2007 - 02:22 am:   

Having a dayly job is a killer. Lately I found myself falling asleep when I try to write...Yesterday I was supposed to finish a dialogue scene but instead I slept for one hour and had a dream about a a bizzare community of nazi-hippies. Me and my wife got lost in a maze of identical corridors whilst looking for our shoes. The result of the day : one paragraph written...
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, August 12, 2007 - 06:07 pm:   

I seem to recall that happening to me once following a Grateful Dead concert.

It's really important to keep track of your shoes...

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