Mark Terry

Friday, September 22, 2006


September 22, 2006
Over on Joe Konrath's blog, he has a good post about finding time to write. I weighed in on my opinion, which essentially is that if you want to be a writer you'll find the time.

Back in the day I often wondered what fulltime novelists did with their time? Because since I was able to write unpublishable novels in less than a year while working fulltime, what did they do?

Actually, I still sometimes wonder, at least when it comes to the really top-level folks who make tons of money off writing a single book a year. Stephen King has suggested that people who spend 5 years or 10 years or 20 years to write a novel aren't really writing, they're dicking around. I'm inclined to agree, although everybody's situation is different. I figure even an incredibly slow writer should be able to put together a decent page a day, and a publishable novel will be done in a minimum of two years. When I do book talks I note that a page a day is 365 pages, which is a novel. So there is that discipline thing going on.

Now that I'm a fulltime writer, it seems to me that I'm busier than ever and sometimes the novel writing gets shoved to the back (like today, I suspect). Of course, the Internet and blogs have created an entirely new level of distraction and time-wasting, but still, I'm awfully busy. As I mention a bit in Joe's blog, I'm trying to wrap up a booklength non-fiction business report. I'm trying to finish up the final draft of ANGELS FALLING. I've got an article due today, and I'm doing the third interview for it this morning. I've got 6 short news articles to write--one interview scheduled for today, so I'll write one of them, hopefully I'll be able to do a couple others, I've got an interview scheduled for a second article that I'm hoping to finish early next week before I head off to Washington DC, I've got an interview scheduled with the local paper to promote THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, I go to the gym today, I've been dabbling in another novel that I don't seem to be getting any work done on, I've been starting research for the 4th Derek Stillwater novel, and the technical journal I edit...

Anyway, the point here I guess is that if you want to be a writer--no, let's get to "the heart of the matter" as Barry Eisler says. If you are a writer, you write. Writer's write. Period. If you don't, you're not a writer. Simply by definition.

The world seems made up of people who think it would be great to be a writer. What they actually want is to have been published. And I use that awkward passive past tense on purpose. They think it would be cool to have a book out there with their name on it, or a magazine article, or whatever. They're just not interested in the work, in the actual writing. They don't actually want to be writers, they want to be AUTHORS, or they want to BE PUBLISHED. But they don't want to write.

I love writing. I love writing far more than being an AUTHOR or a WRITER, althouh I love those both as well. But I actually love the act of writing, and so pretty much from the time I discovered it, I have done it... regularly, obsessively, joyfully. Some people suggest it's discipline. Maybe. Maybe now, anyway. I'm inclined to believe it started out as pleasure and became habit.

Just a final note. THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, which comes out in about a week, was written primarily in long-hand on legal pad during my lunch hour my last year working at Henry Ford Hospital. And it wasn't actually an hour, it was a 30-minute break I stretched to 40 minutes or so. When I got around to it during the week--I was busy writing articles and other things in the evenings--I would enter it in the computer, print it out and keep it moving.

So find the time.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Dory said...

"The world seems made up of people who think it would be great to be a writer. What they actually want is to have been published. And I use that awkward passive past tense on purpose. They think it would be cool to have a book out there with their name on it, or a magazine article, or whatever. They're just not interested in the work, in the actual writing. They don't actually want to be writers, they want to be AUTHORS, or they want to BE PUBLISHED. But they don't want to write."

Forgive me for copy and paste of so much.

But what you said is the watershed difference between what needs to be addressed.

Often is never too much.

Time to separate the writers from the wannabes.

Coordinating a critique group I run into folks like that and. . .

Now what do you say to those who write for theraputic / cathartic reasons? Huh???

Hearing you holler all the way from Meesh-i-gan....? Guess we'll take up a collection for you; a bull-horn is definitly in order.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

For people who write for therapeutic and cathartic reasons...

That's fine. That's like playing guitar or piano for your own pleasure. But if that's why you're writing, why bother to publish?

6:20 AM  
Blogger Christopher Willard author of Garbage Head said...

Proust wrote 2000 words a day before breakfast and then he went to his job. Burgess polished off 2000 words of clean copy a day. So yes there are those who can crank it out. On the other hand I've heard many people criticize both the previous writers on different levels that are mostly related to a lack of time spent on the work.

So while I agree that many writers do tend to "dick around" as Stephen King puts it I also think that some of this "dicking around" is necessary. We require time to let ideas settle and muddle and form analogies. This back-off time is a step in any theory of creativity and innovation. Without it I worry we may merely skim the surface without finding the larger resonating aspects our work should contain.

I would also like to contrast Stephen King's output with someone like Jeffrey Eugenedies in his book Middlesex, that he said took him somewhere around 8 years to write. It's a fabulous work of depth and breadth. I guess I wasn't the only one to appreciate it -- it also won the pulitzer prize. On the other hand in every King novel I've read, I continally find lots of areas that need revisions. Big revisions. (to frame it in a trope Stephen King is so enamoured by.) I like some of King's writing but generally speaking I'm like most other people, I wouldn't bet big money on backing up the statement that his novels are feats of great writing. We understand they are just quick reads with lots of repetition in them. We know what we're getting and we know it won't require any thinking.

So perhaps there is also another type of "dicking around" and that is not taking the time to bring the novel to a new level of mastery, instead settling for something half baked and half resolved.

In the long run I believe it's not the quantity but the quality.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Ron Estrada said...

I loved King's writing book. Leave it to him to cut to the chase. I've come across a number of people, my own sister included, who want to be writers, but they reject the idea that it actually takes time, practice, and learning of basic skills. After all, I can make a sentence, therefore I can write. Right? We've all said it here before, it's a labor of love, because the pay sucks.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I don't actually disagree with you, at least not all that much. I've always looked at William Styron and "Sophie's Choice." Supposedly it took him 21 years to write it. Yes, it's probably a masterpiece, and yes, clinical depression undoubtedly slowed him down, but 21 years? He wrote a sentence a day?

What I'm getting at today is more that we all have 24 hours a day, yet some of us find time to write and some of us don't.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Oh, and one more thing about that quantity versus quality thing.

Quality is absolutely required. (I won't try to define it here today).

But I also know that as a fulltime writer who plans on getting his bills paid, if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to produce a lot. It's a rare writer that writes one novel (or nonfiction book) a year and lives off the proceeds. Productivity is part of the equation, and a big part.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Cherye Barta said...

Mark - just finished your book THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. Really enjoyed it. It's my first from you, but won't be the last. So SERPENT'S KISS is a sequel?

3:41 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yes, Serpent's Kiss is a sequel. Actually, all four books will feature Derek Stillwater. If the real question has to do with, er, Coffee, that's the third book, which I'm finishing up now, tentatively titled Angels Falling.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Oh and Cherye,
If you haven't received a copy of my Derek Stillwater short story, "11 Minutes," e-mail me directly and I'll send you a PDF.


4:17 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Time is always an issue with me. Whether it is true or not, I feel like I can't get my brain in gear to come up with good ideas unless I have a fairly prolonged period to write. I can produce a page on command, or write up something from an outline, but unless I add something that I hadn't thought of before I sat down to write, it's usually pretty dull and useless stuff.

I've met too many people who want to be authors without having to write. I love monkeying with words. When I'm doing that I forget how screwed up the publishing industr is and Ho I'm supposed to be doing publicity etc etc. The writing is practically the only part of being published that I enjoy.

8:07 PM  
Blogger The Scarlet Tree said...

Time is my constant enemy since my little one came to be. Love him to death of course. But I suppose, serious writer or relaxation writer, circumstance dictates. All that said, I still manage a good chunk a day, more if he has a sleep!

9:58 PM  
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