It’s one of the oldest pieces of writing advice ever. I’m pretty sure if I had a chance to scroll through the tablets of ancient Greek writing instructors that somewhere there’s a line instructing lazy students to etch words in wax every single day.
Is that really necessary?
I don’t think so. In my experience, consistency does win out, though.
I’ve been on a pretty heavy-duty workout routine for the past ten months. My goal has been to first get in shape. Healthy was the goal. After working out almost every day for the past ten months I’ve achieved healthy. I don’t look like an athlete. I’m still a pudgy white dude. It will be a while before I’m no longer a pudgy white dude. Well, the white dude part won’t ever change, but I can probably clear away the pudgy part. But after consistently working out I’ve managed to meet my health goals.
What does this have to do with writing.
I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve failed. I haven’t put the consistency rule in place for my writing. Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to switch out my workout time for my writing time. Oh wait, I actually have. But not entirely. Let me explain. I used to work out almost daily. I basically took one day to rest during the week. This isn’t a terrible thing to do when you’re pushing your cardio limits. But I think I’ve reached a level now where I can just focus on working out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. With my diet under control and my workout on those days heavy and dedicated, taking two days off during the week is no great loss. So now I spend those two mornings writing at Starbucks.
I’ve consistently been writing at Starbucks on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the past three weeks. I’m getting words on the page. However, I’m still failing to get enough fiction written to achieve some of my larger goals.
Now I can almost hear some of you saying, “But weren’t you that guy advocating writing a short story a week not too long ago?”
Yeah, I did. And I did write a short story a week for almost four months. It gave me a lot of great material. Some of those stories saw publication. Two in fact. That’s two stories out of sixteen. Those aren’t great odds, by the way. If I played any sport other than hokey, that would be some pretty terrible scoring averages.
So I wanted to improve upon that. I knew there were a number of places I needed to clean up my work. Story was the first one. My stories tend to be overly complex. There’s a lot going on. It’s mainly because I’m one of those people who need to spew out all of their ideas, and then wheedle them down to something more coherent. If I don’t give my stories the time they need through revisions, I don’t end up with the kind of story I want to tell. for the last six months I’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on process. I now have a process. I have a new understanding of story structure that I love. It’s very specific, but it works for a number of stories I want to tell. It’s a way of looking at story that makes it hard to fail, and when it is failing I tend to know exactly why. I removed ambiguity and abstraction from structure. This is a huge step forward for me.
My next big goal was clarity. Clarity on a scene-by-scene level, a paragraph-by-paragraph level, sentence-by-sentence, and finally on a word-by-word level. I know feel I have a number of tools to help with this process. Revisions are actually fun. I have a way to revise and edit that doesn’t feel like pulling teeth. It also involves writing a screenplay version of every story, which means I’m back to writing screenplays. I love the fact I can create two different paths for a single story. I could enter one into a screenwriting competition and I can submit the other to a magazine. Yay! I win either way.
I’m ecstatic about this new process, but I’m still failing. You want to know why? Yeah, you’ve probably guessed it. I’m not consistent. I know what to do, but making the time to do it has become a challenge.
I have a plan, though. My plan is to go back to treating writing like it’s an actual part time job. I have scheduled writing times. They are marked on the calendar. They will send me alerts. This is a good thing. I’ve also marked my calendar with things that aren’t writing related. Like Friday night is PlayStation night. No writing, and no day job work. Friday night is for either playing games with my kiddo or playing something I’m into while she’s at her mother’s. I’m also scheduling specific time for the study of story. Reading other people’s work and taking it apart is a great way to learn how the masters manage to accomplish art. And I have a few hours on the weekend scheduled for learning more technology stuff. I want to be as good at my day job as I am at everything else. Three hours of study on the weekend will help me reach that goal.
This should mean more fiction for me, but as an added incentive I intend to create much more openly. I’ll probably share bits of my work, maybe talk more about works in progress, and also examine the works I’m taking apart for analysis.
Expect more blog posts. They’ll be like this one; quickly written, unedited, stream-of-conscious spews of words onto the page.