Monday, May 18, 2009

Day Labor

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Wilcy Moore, one of the first relief pitchers and a key member of the 1927 Yankees. "I ain't a pitcher," he once said, "I'm a day laborer."

And ain't that the truth. As someone who has been writing books almost exclusively for nearly twenty years, with about 2.5 million words between the covers,I learned more about writing from working construction than any writers' workshop. Because the sooner you integrate the process of writing into your daily life, respecting it for its occasional magic, but treating it like day labor, with all the same attendant difficulties that come with getting up way too early and working even when you don't feel like it, the better off you are, and the easier it becomes.

Many writers, I think, are too cautious about the process, and I tell people over and over and over again to stop acting so damn precious. The people who are good at this, like those who are good at virtually anything, outwork almost everyone else who is trying to do the same thing and may be more talented and privileged. I've never met the artistic genius who didn't put in the time, but many who thought they were who never bothered.

Treating writing as labor keeps me focused on the task at hand. I hardly ever think about what will happen to a book as I am writing it, or the doors it will open, or the cool stuff or the bad stuff that will happen because I wrote it (and I've had both happen - book signings with no one and times I've felt like one of the Beatles), or my expectations in terms of sales and reviews. I can control very little of that, and every second I spend thinking about that stuff takes me away from the work that I am doing. Besides, it's not like you write the book, wait for it to be published, experience that and then begin the process again. It' overlaps, like covering a beat - you have to roll out a story every day. You write the book, and by the time you are finished up and beginning the editing part, you had better have the next idea/proposal rolling out, and by the time that first book is published you should be well on your way to writing the next one and starting to think of the one after that. Some of the things I have in the works now are, literally, ideas I had and started lining up and working towards ten years ago, and I'm already trying to plot out the next ten years. I have a book coming out this summer, Young Woman & the Sea. I'm done with the research and getting ready to write the next one, and may be signing another contract soon. The process is not unlike the way it was when I worked construction, lining up each job ahead of time so you didn't get laid off between jobs and end up unemployed - especially now.

Despite what others have said, I don't think that writing a book is like running of a marathon. It's running every day to stay in shape for a marathon.

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