do you do or do you don’t?

That post title amuses me. It reminds me of a scene in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou: “Is you is or is you ain’t my constituents?”

I’ve been gradually reading through The Guardian’s Ten Rules For Writing Fiction:

“Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts.”
Here’s a link.

It’s really fun stuff, and much of it is very helpful.

Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

– Roddy Doyle (He’s British, he can spell favorite that way if he wants to.)

Having completed my taxes, I read these first and last rules by Hilary Mantel:

1. Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant. …

10. Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up
reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul
to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.

Oh, well, now she tells me. But it’s alright, since I’m not sure I buy the premise that I’m reasonably expected to give my soul to literature, or anything else on any given day.

I’m just a pilgrim and a stranger, passing through this worrisome land. 

Besides, I wasn’t thinking about income tax. If I had been thinking about it, it would have been done in February.

Here we find some sensible tips from Esther Freud:

2. A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s
missing something.

3. Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into

4. Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere.
Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

5. Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Good tips for process there. I do read aloud to myself. A habit picked up in writing poetry. I think good writing is a form of music; it shouldn’t be too shy to sing. 

I take editing pretty seriously; at least, I’m getting better at it. But the other 2 rules I’ve quoted there, at those I don’t do so well. Which brings me finally to the point.

What steps do you take to achieve what all the writing professors on the planet have agreed is the most important thing, keeping the writer’s ass in the writer’s chair?

I had a prof who used to write A – I – C in big letters across the chalkboard – “Ass In Chair!” Or maybe it was On chair, or Ass + Chair. It doesn’t matter. It really is something they tell you, though. Just keep at it, don’t get distracted, don’t give up. You can google it.

Neil Gaiman’s first 3 rules are

1. Write.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

And Neil is no slouch. Prolific, he is. And he’s had some success for himself, especially in the past year. So one should pay heed, is my point.

I don’t take any special steps for keeping ass on chair. I make myself no promises. Dust in the wind, born on the vicissitudes of the unwinding day. … Perhaps I exaggerate. I have some self discipline, but no schedule.

One of the most strident rules I’ve heard over the years, “make time to do it every day,” gets thoroughly blown off around here. But it makes sense. A musician doesn’t skip a day of practice, right? Every day, that’s how you keep your chops.

So what do you do and what do you don’t? Do you set a schedule? Write in the morning? Unplug the phone? Unplug the Internet? Take a 12-gauge to the TV? Put your pet possum down for a nap? What works? 

The second most important writing rule is “Read!” We’ll cover that another time. For now, 2 more from Gaiman:

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have
to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the
horizon. Keep moving.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence,
you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for
writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written.
Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules.
Not ones that matter.

1 thought on “do you do or do you don’t?

  1. Okay, so reading this inspired this:The Angry EditorI wrote and wroteIn frantic rageThen cut and cutTo a blank page.:^)I like Gaiman's #8. Alot. His #6 ain't bad either.And your "(You) shouldn't be too shy to sing." Esther Freud must relinquish her weak #5 in favor of Jack London's famouser one: You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.I love reading these "rules."This is what works for me; it might work for you.Or, Take my advice; even I use it sometimes.Or, None of this may work, but do it anyway.Now that ass-in-chair business. It should be pointed out that the chair matters. It should be the writing chair—not the kitchen chair or the TV chair or the video game chair or the afternoon nap chair. However, if you still suffer from that imaginary cube of inconvenience, writer's block, try the plugged-in chair to jumpstart things, Sparky.Finally, musicians DO skip days of practice. I know. I'm one. Sometimes, like the writer, the musician must give it a rest, make time to experience and grok some Life, purposely confuse the inspirational muscles, change things up, take a walk on the mild side, if you will.Listen with eyes, see with ears, scent with tongue, taste with nose, feel with guts. We cannot carry water until we first find the spring that lives in the well of our thirst. We cannot chop wood until we first plant the seed that grows the handle of the axe as well as our own hand.Gaiman's #8 does it for me.Think I'll stop now. Be brave.

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