19 January 2009

Art without Pressure

Today I want to speak up as others have done before me and proclaim that the image of the solitary genius in the garret, scribbling away at the Best Novel Ever while simultaneously hairpulling and starving and sacrificing relationships and personal wellbeing is a crock. Art does not equal suffering.

Discipline is necessary, yes. But discipline and punishment are not the same things. I'm not talking about conflict and drama and hard times that you've been through that become your source material for art. (Although hopefully you're also sometimes thinking about the good times too while you write.) I guarantee you that you'll suffer enough just by living to make a million tons of great art. But you don't have to suffer more because you're making art.

I want to share something I've been working on. It's inspired by a book I read while writing my PhD thesis, called Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, by Joan Bolker (highly, highly recommended if you're in grad school and facing the task of writing your diss.).

On days that I've got a story to tell, which isn't every day, even if I don't feel like it, I write for twenty minutes.

Some days, I write for twenty minutes and I'm done for the day.

Other days, those twenty minutes get me into it enough that I want to keep going. So you know what I do?

I still get up from my desk at the end of the twenty minutes. I do something else for a little while. And then I go write for another twenty minutes.


Because you have to give space for inspiration to come through.
Because there's chili and cornbread to make.
Because the dog needs walking.
Because I still haven't folded my laundry.
Because most people can only concentrate for twenty minutes, max.
Because by giving space, there's room for the story to interpenetrate everything. So it will work through you while you do everything else, and improve itself.

Twenty minutes on, ten minutes off. This is how I do it.