Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Guilt, the Writer's Companion

Okay, so there are some of you out there who write a couple of thousand words before getting the kids up and going to work. Proper writers start at 9, don't check their emails until they've hit their target, deal with admin in the afternoons and have time to go to the gym in the evening. Stephen King does 2000 words a day, every day, including birthdays and Christmas. Alexander McCall Smith does 3,000 between 5am and 8am.

I could go on, but the thought depresses me. I'm a guilty writer, you see. I procrastinate. I faff. I have a vague routine but constantly break it. I can't write regardless; if I'm unhappy or tired or upset, then forget it. I can be enormously productive (and on good days, gosh you should hear me crowing on Twitter) and staggeringly unproductive. I can waste hours fretting about all the hours I'm wasting.

And what I've learnt is....so what?

You write your way, I write mine. Perhaps I'm not as productive as Author X, but then I'm not writing Author X's books, I'm writing mine. Actually, I know I'm not as productive as almost every other author on the planet - well, that's how it feels - but then, I can only do what I do. I trot along in my own way, trying very hard not to compare myself with others, and at some point a book gets written. My book gets written. It may not have followed a strict regime, but it will get done. And at the end of the day, that's all that people care about - the end result, not the process.

So don't upset yourself by comparing yourself with others. Even if they have a terrific output, regular as clockwork, they're still not able to write the book you're writing. Carry on in your own way, putting in the time when and where you can. Your book, your schedule. And no guilt, please.

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Exeter 21st May
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/


Jim Murdoch said...

And the Australian writer Gerald Murnane writes for one hour every day and that’s it. In that time he produces about 100 finished words. He says that amounts to about 36,000 words a year and that’s enough for any man. I think the worst thing any writer can do is compare themselves to another, as if there’s a right way do to this. I often feel guilty that I don’t write more but I’m a gestator and I’m resigned to that now. The real work is all done in my head before I ever put pen to paper. I might be making up the words on the spot but that’s the easy part.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sarah.

I used to constantly compare myself to others, and then try to make excuses for myself. But the truth is, everyone works differently, and like you say, the books still get written.

Thanks for the inspiring words, as always :-)

Sarah Duncan said...

I love the idea of being a gestator. I shall use it from now on - unless you're claiming exclusive rights Jim! But 100 words a day...that's a book every 3 years, which is OK for literary, not so good for commercial.

Lucie, glad you're using the past tense re comparing yourself to others!

Jim Murdoch said...

Murnane averages a book every four years or so but that's not the only stuff he does. He has about 20+ filing cabinets full of the stuff in fact but he's a lot like Beckett, in no great rush to send his 'works of fiction' (he doesn't call them novels) out into the world.

And, please feel free to use 'gestator'. Murnane is one of those too. He has ideas running around his head for years before he every commits to writing them down, ten years in one case.

And that's the thing, just because you're mulling away on one project doesn't mean you can't work on another. Time is valuable.

Karen said...

*I can waste hours fretting about all the hours I'm wasting.*

That's me to a tee. If I did as much writing as I did fretting about not writing I'd have another novel or two under my belt!

Sarah Duncan said...

Jim, glad to know there are plenty of gestators among us.

Karen, along with the extra novels I'd have written if I hadn't wasted the time fretting, there would probably have been a couple more if I hadn't been blogging and Twittering!