Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Yourself Write

When I was in college, I had no trouble whatsoever making time to write. In four years I wrote four novels, had a paying newspaper job, was active with the theatre group, and graduated with three majors (my university didn't offer minors). One of those novels was even ultimately published, once I had learned a good deal more about novel writing. But the point is that I must have known how to manage my time - taking all those classes successfully and enjoying myself with the theatre crowd and doing a great deal of writing.

When I got out of college, I took part time jobs, lived cheaply, and kept on writing both fiction and journalism. After I became a full-time writer, I usually managed to produce more than one book a year, balancing the novels with shorter nonfiction books. But somewhere along the way I discovered I was having trouble getting the writing done.

First it was because I was in a terrible auto wreck, and my right wrist was seriously damaged. (I am very right-handed.) It took almost four years to find the right surgeon (who had just gotten FDA approval for a prosthetic wrist joint) to repair the damage. During those years I struggled to write, and was generously helped by writer friends who gifted me with dictation software for my Mac. That software got me through the crisis of deadlines that had to be met despite the injury. Several of my editors were more than understanding, but publishers can't wait forever, and I refused to be permanently sidelined by my wrist. Fortunately, after the surgery, my wrist is back to typing energetically, at all hours of the day or night.

But since then I've found it more and more difficult to overcome writing complications. Case in point: I am on a writer's retreat to make serious headway on my new novel. I got out of bed yesterday morning with a swollen, painful left ankle. It had been fine when I went to bed and dreamed about my characters. But sometime in the night, I (or my teddy bear) did something to it. Yesterday, I barely managed a page of usable writing, because my ankle hurt enough to make me sick to my stomach. I tried taking Advil, I tried propping it up (a pillow on the top of a cooler makes a very nice ankle support), I tried to lose myself in the book, but it just wouldn't work. I went to bed hoping the ankle pain would disappear as mysteriously as it had appeared. 

But when I woke up this morning - I think you can guess what I found. That's right - I hobbled to my computer with my ankle still hurting. And I asked myself: what magic had I employed back in college to accomplish everything? I distinctly remember taking some rather serious spills off my bike (just a ten-speed, but you can still fall hard when you're pedalling full out and hit a city pothole). I'm sure I was sick, and I know I slept in and missed many a morning class. But I never missed a deadline for either a paper or a newspaper article, and I finished one novel for each year I was there. What did I do?

I honestly can't remember, but today I decided that, with that sublime confidence that only a teenager can possess, I must simply not have cared whether I was sick or injured. I had writing to do, so I did it. And today I did just that. I told my ankle to just sit there and be glad I wasn't walking on it, and I wrote. And I produced 8 good pages today. And this blog entry.

Of course, I'm going to have to hobble to bed, and I know I hope again that the pain will miraculously disappear, but even if it doesn't, I'm determined to rise and write again. That's the only way to finish a book.

And an ankle has very little to do with the writing process, after all.


  1. Take care! That's the way to go! Sorry to hear about your ankle though:(( I had a pretty productive last week and wrote two chapters in four days! That was my personal record:)) This week I've been out a lot and I wrote the next chapter in four days, also wrote down detailed summaries for two new stories ideas and hope to put in a good deal of work tomorrow. Good luck!


  2. Congratulations on those new chapters! I'm delighted that you're making such good progress. And thanks for the good luck wishes - I'm making solid progress now that I've put my nose to the grindstone (though continuing to keep my ankle propped up). I'll take care, and hopefully that will lead to yet more progress. Keep me posted on your writing progress, too!

  3. I plan on finishing the current chapter today even though I get distracted by Internet every second. Can you believe it I just got a title for a book or a miniseries with the names of the main characters and no clear idea what it is all about! Now I will have to come up with the story to match the title! Usually I get ideas first...For example I got the title for my current story when I was already on Chapter 8!
    Take care!
    Lucky writing to you!

  4. Sometimes titles come first - a lot of the time, though, I have to write a good deal before the title comes into focus. It's easier with my books for younger readers (a ghost story about a U.S. Civil War soldier is called Ghost Soldier, for instance), but with my young adult novels I like the name to reflect the theme. I knew the title for The Perfect Shot from the beginning, and the same for the one I'm writing now, Permanent Record. But other times I have to think about it, or get my critique group to help me brainstorm.

    Hope you finished the chapter!

  5. HELP I want to be an author but I am so confused on how to get started