Saturday, April 11, 2009


It’s axiomatic that if you want to learn how to write, then you need to do it regularly, to take up your pen and get it moving. Anne Lamott recommends a modest two-hundred-or-so words a day, Stephen King a daunting fifteen-hundred. Yet while many urge such discipline, fewer advocate a focused form of it, namely, applying unbroken effort to a project until you’ve finished a first draft.

Simple, right? I mean, even if they don’t say it in so many words, that’s what the pros are implying, isn’t it? Perhaps, but I think most of us are a good deal more scattered in our habits. See if you can relate to the following scenario. An idea falls into your head, a bolt out of the blue, an unconventional character or an unusual plot or a subject that seizes your passion. You decide to write about it and you do, at least for a while. Then you get busy. You have to take your car in for service. You come down with a cold. You have to work late. Or maybe to hit the proverbial wall and run out of ideas. So you move on to other things, temporarily, of course. Another story. An article. A blog post. The distance, though, is already introduced, and every day you do something else, the space grows greater.

I have run in the above rut so often that it’s beginning to look like a certain canyon in Arizona. And whenever I’ve tried to re-direct my attention to my original idea, it feels like trying to climb said canyon armed only with a claw hammer, the once-clear details now mere specks hundreds of feet above. But for once I’m attempting to avoid this conundrum altogether. Every day for the past week, I’ve gotten elbow deep in gutting an old short, and unexpected things have started happening. Inconsistencies have become easier to spot. Daily word counts have increased. And ideas have come faster. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, the exhilarating inertia of one thought sweeping you into the next and the one after that and the one after that, right on up to the end.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


ollwen said...

I can sure relate to the first 3 paragraphs. The last one less often. For me there always seems to be the addition of a new idea that seems more interesting or better for it's newness, also.

Glad to hear you've got some positive inertia going. "Right on, mate!" ooo. . . I see a potential pun. . . resisting. . .

Loren Eaton said...

I haven't experienced much of that final bit until very recently. I believe that the continual work meaning you're thinking about the story more, which helps carry you over some of humps.

Regarding puns, they are only allowed in Middle Shelf stories.