Write Evey Day? Naah!

IMG_0352If you haven’t heard successful writers preach to you about how you absolutely MUST write for a specific amount of time (or some word count) EVERY darn day, then you’re lucky. But it’s the law of the land.

I’m saying it’s not a well-thought-through law. The fact that I’m not a published writer (statistics show I probably never will be) might give you reason to ignore the golden perspective I’m about to unload, but it’s always good to listen to both sides of the big issues, even the stupid side across the aisle.

You’ve heard that practice makes perfect. Nothing could be further from the truth. As my quadriplegic day-trader friend, Mike Reed at http://www.tradestalker.com, says: “Practice does not make perfect.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.” He should know. The Dodgers were very interested in him before the accident that caused his paralysis. He played catcher in those days and had legs like tree-trunks. Now he trades for a living and has done remarkably well for over 25 years.

If you practice cavalierly you are practicing mistakes. If your goal is to get in an hour of casual writing every day, you are practicing mistakes.  When you practice doing things wrong, you’re going to do things wrong in the game.

Worse yet, take it from me, it’s twice as difficult to “unlearn” hack writing than it is to learn to do things decently the first time.

How can you practice writing without practicing the natural mistakes of hack writers?

First, reading books about fiction writing is NOT the key. It’s like taking voice lessons without listening to great singers. I did that.

Launching into a five-year story-writing binge and neglecting all those essential zombie hours with the TV and kids doesn’t help your writing much either. I tried it. Great fun, though! Writing fiction is like a drug.

Writing endless long emails arguing politics across the aisle?  That doesn’t help much, either.  You could lose a life-long friend.  I did.

Keeping a journal? Not too sure, I never stuck with it.

Reading the type of book you’re writing? Yeah, that helped me more than anything else, by three orders of magnitude.

I don’t know about this next thing, but… I think a fast reader can read a ton of fiction and not allow it improve his/her/its writing.

I think it’s like singing. You listen to Pavarotti for a while, turn him off, get on the piano and vocalize, try to break into your upper range using his tone quality… Then you go back and try to sing along with him. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you might take some voice lessons or read a book about singing.  The key is listening to a great singer, not a guy who’s charging you 75 bucks an hour to sing art songs that make you want to barf.

The fiction reading that helps me is like this:  I read a little in the first chapter or two, try to remember what’s going on with the mechanics of the story, try to “hear” the way this author puts words together, and then sit down immediately at the keyboard to “vocalize.”  I’m not copying the author.  Strike that.  I’m subconsciously copying the hecque out of her techniques, her flow of words, her range of vocabulary, her use of suspense, surprise, backstory, dialogue, and everything else my tiny mind can absorb. It’s not deliberate copying, of course, it’s the kind of thing you could honestly not realize you’re doing at all. It’s what toddlers do when they learn their native tongue: absorbing the gestalt of adult professionals.

There’s no shame in learning a new language or skill the way children do. Wisdom, yeah, but no shame.

One time I took some notes out of Collin’s book, “The Hunger Games,” and posted them on this blog. (They’re still here.) They were notes to myself, but later I edited them a little to make things slightly less unreadable – just in case someone might ever read them.

Analyzing and breathing in a published author’s story, writing down the thoughts, and reviewing them before writing my own stuff helped me more than anything – in terms of fiction writing. Watching “Predator” helped me more in personal relationships.

Should you write every day?

Naaah!

Not unless you can’t help it. I write pretty much every day, but it’s an unhealthy obsession, not a duty. And I try hard not to practice mistakes. But I’d be better off writing fewer hours at a time and doing a lot less editing.

Whether you write every day or not, I hope you take my priceless and infallible advice: thoughtfully read some good fiction before you start writing – every time, if possible.

If you have enough self-discipline, limit yourself to “perfect” practice… writing as well as the professional whose influence you cherish, whose books you can’t put down. Just five minutes of that is invaluable. Five years of daily re-enforcing hack mistakes while reading books about avoiding hack mistakes doesn’t get you far. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

M. Talmage Moorehead

11 thoughts on “Write Evey Day? Naah!

  1. A big thank you for stopping by and following my blog crystaltots.wordpress.com … It means a lot. I quite agree with your point that practicing things wrongly, will make you do things wrong in the game also with what i have read on your blog you do know what you are talking about…. If you are not published you should be….

    • Thank you for that huge encouragement about my writing! I’m not published, other than a small research paper from med school years. “Platelet Involvement in the Activated Coagulation Time of Heparinized Blood.” Catchy title. 😉

      I thought this was particularly insightful from your blog:

      “Those that believe we were created do not want to think otherwise and those that believe we evolved feel the other party is wasting their time.”

      Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/EzTcKB

      Thank you again for your comment! 🙂

  2. You’re clearly a fair dinkum writer. I’m an ear-basher. But I’m slightly dizzy at seeing you’ve liked many of the posts on my blog. Wow.
    I’ve done the ‘wild mind’ bit – even consulting the book recommended by the ‘Life Stories’ course leader. I’m either too obstinate or this is just not my style.
    I’ve tried to persuade myself I’m a writer but I’m not.
    I write to stay sane. I’ve written to purge myself of a load of emotion and guilt I’ve been carrying for many, many years. Counselling didn’t help. Writing did. And so did wandering down a philosophical path that included listening to and reading Sam Harris and coming to the conclusion we have no free will. And if that’s the case I’ve always been not only doing the best I could at every moment but the *only* thing I could do at every moment.
    It’s hard to open the prison door even when you know you didn’t deserve the punishment.
    Being a hypersensitive person – physically as well as emotionally – can be a damned nuisance.

    • Fairlycirrus, thank you for the complimenting on my writing. I don’t think I have the ear for writing good poetry or literature. I try not to care. I just want to get my thoughts out to others. As many others as possible, which means average readers like myself.

      I don’t buy the assumption that people who write for average readers are less valuable to the Universe than those who reach sophicates with trained ears for lyrical prose.

      You’ve got a sharp mind, original ideas and GUTS to face the truth, no matter how ugly it is. In my book, you’re a born writer with the highest qualifications.

      No such thing as free will? I’m flinching a little here. But I know where you’re coming from, I think.

      I can’t take a dogmatic stand on the issue because I don’t know how to scientifically determine whether or not freedom of choice exists. I have a strong subjective sense of fee will. It’s so strong that to me, it comes close to decent evidence that there is a force outside of space and time, beyond our cause-and-effect billiard ball universe, that is undetermined, free of previous cause, and somehow available to individuals within the cause-and-effect universe.

      But truly, if I knew that the universe was 100% cause-and-effect, regular matter, dark matter, dark energy and all, and I knew there was nothing unlike it beyond space and time, I would side with the notion that free will does not exist, despite my senses and strong subjective impressions to the contrary.

      “It’s hard to open the prison door even when you know you didn’t deserve the punishment.”

      What do you mean you’re not a writer? !!! You so are.

      And I know what you mean by this, I think. It makes me think of my 26 years practicing pathology. I used to tell my wife when I left for work that it feels like I’m going to prison. I knew I didn’t deserve a life that felt like that. But since not every pathologist feels that way, the problem was obviously me, not the job. Does that sound vaguely familiar?

      I quit the profession, finally. And although I realize I’m not the poster child for normal, it seems to me the problem was THE JOB !!!! (Picture Sam Kenison screaming those last two words.) I feel like a new person now.

      Hang in there. Being sensitive can also be a gift, I think. Especially if it helps you care about other people and relate.

      • Blushes.

        Do you regret your career path? Do you wish there’d been a critical moment at which you’d taken a different road?

        I’ve had no career, despite go as far as earning a post-grad. I don’t know who said, “If you don’t know where you’re going you’re liable to end up somewhere else” but they could have said it of me.
        It really doesn’t matter why I didn’t have the career. And it would be churlish of me to complain. I was born into a poor family in London’s East End where no one told me a career was possible. Or even going to uni. I was a working class kid and my future was clear; marry, raise kids, die.

        My life has been lived as a jumble of what’s was the norm for my children’s generation. But this is not a grumble. This part of my life – where I’m still reasonably healthy (despite chronic migraines and profound spinal osteo), my mind’s still going ‘full bore’ and I’ve almost 70 years of accumulated knowledge. As to wisdom … I’m not too sure.

        A very dear friend asked me today, “Do you seek out confrontation?” She meant it in a kindly way (she and I are English eccentrics and understand each other). And yes, I do. My father, whom I never really knew since he died when I was 7, could “argue the hind legs off a donkey”. So can my two sons whose intelligence thrills me. I swear this propensity to debate is genetic. It’s as though our minds seek the stimulation of argument to reaffirm what we think and believe in.

        Your “decent evidence that there is a force outside of space and time, beyond our cause-and-effect billiard ball universe, that is undetermined, free of previous cause, and somehow available to individuals within the cause-and-effect universe” surprised me. It sounds as though you want to say, but shy away from, the word ‘god’. So here I go … because I simply can’t ‘not’ …

        If this force is outside of time, it can have no effect on us. I order to have an effect it must ‘do’ something’ and nothing can be ‘done’ unless it takes place within time. Doing involves change and change can only be from one point in time to the next – or some other – point in time. And therefore this force either exists WITHIN time or it doesn’t exist or it can’t exert an influence.

        OK. That’s enough. I might take a leap into the ‘free will’ thing with you at some stage but I would hate to put the kybosh on our conversation. (Wow, I’m digging up words from my past that I’ve neither heard nor said for decades!)

        • I regret my career completely. It just about ruined my life. The only thing about it that was redeeming was the fact that I was a good pathologist and did some accurate diagnosing that helped people get the treatment they needed.

          There were signs along the way from day one, that it was not the right career choice for me, but I didn’t read the evidence, I didn’t know myself well enough to realize that my temperament was a setup for misery in any job that puts people’s lives literally in your hands on a routine basis. I wrote a post about it on my other blog http://www.youturning.com. That blog/site is boring. I’m going to do something else with it one of these days.

          You’re 70 and I’m 58. You like to argue, I’m afraid of confrontation. I was a physically abused child from age 3 through 12. And emotionally abused all my adult life by the same source.

          In my subconscious world, if I argue with someone I’ll get the crap kicked out of me. I still manage to start arguments, though. My blog on Darwinism hurt an atheist’s feelings recently and he let me have it. His writing was quite good, I thought, at least from the perspective of moving the reader emotionally, which is about the only thing that matters to me in a person’s writing. Well, fiction anyway.

          Tiptoeing in, therefore, on free will, I would suggest that our experience of time as linear may not be the whole story. I admit I’m grasping at straws here, but I’m compelled to do it by the strength of this sense that I have a free will. It seems so real to me, it’s difficult to imagine it’s not. So, in all honesty, I’m going at the question with the assumption that free will is real. From there I speculate my way to things that can’t be defended because they may exist only in my imagination, right beside free will which, for all I can prove may also exist only in my imagination.

          See what I mean? I’m no fun to argue with. I don’t have a lot of desire to win arguments. Winning arguments was never an option in my formative years. Keeping my mouth shut was. But I’ve never been any good at that, either. 🙂

  3. I suppose the pithy version is this: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1404-if-you-don-t-have-time-to-read-you-don-t-have

    I find myself relatively rarely reading fiction, though. At least, very rarely reading the kind of fiction I (occasionally) write. I’ve written sprawling and epic sci-fi/fantasy stuff, but the classics of those genres just bore the crap out of me. I could read Christopher Brookmyre and Terry Pratchett all day, but emphatically don’t have a flair for their wit and don’t have much of a desire to replicate it. But what of the stuff I do read more frequently? What would my writing look like after binging on Douglas Hofstadter for a while beforehand? An interesting experiment to try.

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