Writer's block letter No. 2: Jan 14, 2008
A reader writes that I could welcome reader response, such as agreement, disagreement and personal examples. Absolutely right. On my blog I encourage discussion. Here, it's harder to get a conversation going, but I very much want to hear your responses to this letter, including ideas for improvement.
Another reader says: "I started writing!"
Writing with a partner (not really).
My newsletters are brief, and every one aims to give you a practical tip or a call to action. Feel free to read fast. Approx 600 words.
This won't be about me telling you to write with a partner. Many writers believe the mysterious alchemical process of creating has to be private, and I'm not here to argue with them. In fact, allowing writers to keep their work close to the chest is central to how I coach them. And perhaps your novel expresses your mind in a unique way. And so on.
But co-authoring does have benefits. Look at the great teams like Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, or the Coen Brothers. So let's talk about teamwork as a way to talk about how and why people write. What would be the benefits of being on a team?
Well, here are four:
It gives you deadlines, and deadlines are Good Things. They bring that sense of urgency I was talking about last time.
It gives you accountability. If you turn up for a partnership session unprepared, it matters more than if you break some promise you made only to yourself.
It gives you the synergy and sparkling thrill of a good conversation. My own experience is that developing story ideas with a well-matched partner brings on that "Yes! That works!" moment several times a night, each of which would take me a week to reach on my own.
But most of all, I think, it gives you focus. When you meet with your partner you are probably going to write. You are probably not going to be tempted to surf the web or reorganize your underwear drawer alphabetically. You are going to write. That is what matters.
So. Accepting that you don't want a partner in your writing life, let's ask ourselves if there are other ways to bring the same benefits into it. Deadlines and accountability can't be faked - you can't do them without another person (but if you want to try, set up a system of rewards and/or penalties for yourself and make sure you stick to it). I'm willing to be the other person but I charge for my time. A friend can do it if you recruit the right person. You have to believe in the promises you make them, and take the deal totally seriously. That's why it doesn't always work.
On your own, I don't see how you can have the flash and spark of conversational interplay. The closest you'll get is having a conversation with an imaginary friend. Or an imaginary conversation with a friend. But I think you need to sit down with a real person. Maybe you have a writer-friend who'd be willing to take turns workshopping story ideas, without actually co-writing each other's precious babies? Or try a writing group?
And what about focus, which I said was most important: how can you do that on your own? My answer is to remove all distractions. All distractions. Physically pull the net cable out of your computer. I'm serious. Leave the house. Go to a park, a library or a coffee shop - some people like quiet, some don't - and don't let yourself leave until you have written the planned number of words. It can be embarrassing to admit that we have to manipulate ourselves in this way. To admit that we are powerless to stop ourselves checking email every few minutes. But if it is so in your life, then the way to be productive is to face the facts about why you haven't been. And won't it be great to be productive!
Something you can do today:
If you find it hard to concentrate on writing, if you find you are distracted by being able to use the phone, able to use the net, able to do housework, then take yourself geographically away from temptation. Sounds silly, and that's ok. Let me know if it works, let me know if it doesn't.
David Jung McGarva
+1 (818) 707 1871
Write me: david at todayiwrite dot com
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