Thursday, April 05, 2012

Heed the Urge

Free advice, it's the one thing that most people rarely fear to give and balk at accepting for free, the idea that something you've done is wrong or inappropriate, or worse, that you need help, especially with writing. That's what I'm offering this morning, a little free advice.

I've been writing most of my life and have been published for more than a few years. I've learned a thing or two, although it seems they are mostly bad habits. Writing is a lot like dieting or, in my case, ignoring the body's needs. In this case, it's the mind's needs, although the body works into the mix anyway.

When I was younger, I thought I could lose weight by starving myself. I didn't count on the bred in the genes part that thought I was starving. Well, I was starving, but there was plenty of food around. I chose not to eat it because I wanted to lose that extra 10 or 15 pounds. What I didn't count on was how my body would rebel against my rebelling against food. My body clamored for food and I ignored the signs, the empty stomach, the cramps, the desire to chew on anything, even cardboard, if it would fill me up. All I thought about was the way I'd look when I lost the extra pounds. I was ignorant. I didn't realize that while I was virtuously denying myself food, eating only 2 ounces of cheese and drinking lots of water (which did nothing to curb my cravings), I was damaging myself.

The starvation gene had kicked in after the first week and was storing up every calorie it could find, lying in wait for an influx of food to store more against future famines. I lost 10 pounds and celebrated with a normal sized portion of dinner. Breakfast followed the next morning and I followed that with lunch and dinner, eating small portions, but eating at last. The taste was so good I wanted to lick the plate or bowl or glass clean. I held myself back in deference to the way I was brought up, but the urge was strong . . . and the scales crept up to replace the 10 pounds I'd lost and pack on a few more, so I starved again, eating after I lost the weight, and gaining even more weight every time I went back to eating normally. I finally cut out breakfast and tried every diet fad coming down the pike, but the results were the same: brief weight loss followed by increased weight gain.

It took me years to figure out what I was doing to myself, years and a lot of reading. Losing weight is even harder because of the damage I did to myself all those years, and I refuse to consider weight loss surgery to correct the issue, so I plod along, eat as healthy as possible and give my body what it needs. I learned too late.

Writing is similar to losing weight in some ways. Ignoring the urge to write for a day or a week or even a year does have an effect. Writing becomes more difficult. It is harder to sit in the chair every day, or on the couch or in the bath with a table across the sides, or wherever you feel most comfortable writing, when you ignore the urge to write. Unlike dieting, you don't end up with more words than when you started, but a habit of quitting early, taking notes and doing endless research and balking when it comes to sitting down and beginning a story or book. You've replaced the urge to write with an urge to write when you get around to it. You can always write after you do the laundry or the dishes, after this show is over, or when you get back from vacation, never realizing that you are hurting yourself and your dreams of publication. Without the words and the filled pages, there will be no books, no stories, and no publication, unless you hurry up and throw words onto a page without worrying about plot, characterization, or even whether the words are spelled correctly and the sentences aren't a mishmash of whatever came to mind.

Having words down on the page is not enough. It might be all right for a blog or a quick article, but what you put on the page is as important as what you put in your body when you eat. It does matter if the grammar is barely there and the details right. It matters.

I should know. I have a good case of putting it off until the last moment because I have a job that sucks the energy and creativity out of me every day. I muddle through, make notes, write down snatches of dialogue, description, and background, but it's not like writing every day. I've lost the fire to write, the fire that kept me writing all night long, going to work tired and empty of words and energy. I've come to the point where I have great books brewing in my head and ignore the urges to put it on paper. Not scribbling it down, but actually forming sentences, paragraphs, and pages full of well crafted words. I mean to do it, but I just can't get myself to the computer and get it done. I've fiddled with my time, filling it with nonsense and work that could wait, and made excuses.

I remember a time when I would wander off during a family gathering, pull a notebook or journal from my purse, and write, rushing to the computer the moment I got home or the guests left, so I could write. I wrote every day, and sometimes all day, finishing a 100,000+ word book in a week, revising it and fleshing it out until it was done. I've had my share of books that failed in the middle and had nowhere else to go, but I learned and kept writing. I never stopped writing -- until recently. I kept telling myself I'd get to it. I don't even blog every day the way I used to do, but I'm not a complete dilettante. I do journal nearly every day, even when I'm ill. The urge to get up and fill the pages so I can open a new journal and begin again is too strong. At least there I haven't failed. I can't completely ignore the urge to write because it has been such a part of me for decades.

In a way, this is not only free advice, but a declaration for myself, a promise that I will write, mostly because I am writing now. The need to write is not yet sated and I don't think it will be any time soon. Oh, I prefer to be comfortable when I write, but most of the time I don't notice my surroundings when I'm writing. I'm in the zone where hours pass without comment and day turns to night and turns back to day while I pound out another story, a book, a blog post because I do love the words and the way they come together. I'll miss a few grammar points, but that is what my editor is for; she keeps me honest and puts me back on track.

I have one piece of advice for every writer. Do it every day without fail. Don't ignore the urge or you will one day stop feeling it. I have to remind myself to eat regularly, especially when I'm writing, because of all the years I ignored my body's demands and urges. It is much harder for me to hear them now. The urge to write is still strong and it clamors for my attention nearly every hour, invading my dreams when I ignore it when I'm awake. The urge hounds and nags and makes itself known in every way possible. I'm glad for that because without it, I'd be fat and an automaton going through the motions of living, doing the laundry and dishes, running the errands, working my scheduled hours, and devoid of any sign of life, caroming from one chore to the next, piling up money to spend without having anything I really want to buy. That's no life for a writer.

Okay, I have 2 pieces of advice besides "write every day without fail" and that is read voraciously. A writer should read and read widely. Venture into new territory and it will show up in the writing, not only in better construction but more mature and well rounded stories.

Writing is a process, a discipline, a calling, and a gift. Don't ignore it. Heed the urges and put your backside in the chair and write. Even if you don't think you have anything to say, just the act of writing is enough to stimulate the little grey cells and words will come. You can throw them out later, but write them down. Every day, write them down. Carve out some time. Make writing a habit. Words will come and with them will come paragraphs and pages and stories and books. Heed the urge.