Wednesday, February 08, 2006


The distance between people who actually write novels, and people who talk about writing novels, is wide. Between them lies a chasm, the pit that defines the pro from the amateur: actual results from setting fingers to keypad and doing it.

There’s only one way the talker can become the doer, and that’s to get into the habit of writing.

There are many ways to skin the rabbit, but I’ve only heard of one way to write a novel. And writing takes time, oh lordy it takes time. Most novelists spend our days working in someone else’s cotton fields, sharecropping our time. The remainder is partitioned to loved ones, sleeping, calling our mothers. Then there’s that little bit left. The writing time.

There are two tricks to forming the habit of writing. The first is to take that little bit of time left in the busy, busy day, and claim it for the work. It ain’t easy. There’s always a blog that needs to be read, or another twenty minutes snuggled under warm sheets. But it has to be done. It’s your time. You must use it to write, or be forever dogged by the uneasiness that something’s unfinished. You know what I’m talking about. It hovers there, the ghost of unresolved conflicts and characters right there over your heart. Life is gray.

The second trick is to take that claimed time, and use it when your brain is the sharpest. For me, that’s the wee hours of the morning. I get up, it’s dark, the house is cold, and my cat is pissed off that I woke her. My cheap Folgers tastes like ambrosia. I sit at my work area, and get on it. I work on the story, I feel my muscles loosening, the words flow more easily, and I inch closer toward completion. Closer to laying the ghost at rest.

I have friends who like to work late at night when the house is asleep. That’s their sharpest time of day—the night. The midnight hour stretches in front of them like velvet, and they fling themselves into it. In the morning they have a prize to wake up to, like shoes the elves make for the poor shoemaker, the work that’s done. Closer to completion.

Somerset Maugham famously once said: "I write only when inspriation strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

He and inspiration had gotten into a habit.


Blogger thea mcginnis said...

yup. as stephen king says - you need the butt glue.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Nienke Hinton said...

Great post!
It's like anything else, really: dieting, exercising, homework, housework, research... Ya gotta Just. Do. It.
I hope you don't mind that I added you to my blogroll! Great site!
Found you via

1:37 PM  
Blogger Nienke Hinton said...

Linkin' right back atcha!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Elena Greene said...

There's an excellent book called THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. He writes: "There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't and the secret is this: it's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write."

Kudos for facing the page every morning, Kathleen!

Now time to light the candle and turn on the music.

Elena, coffee at my elbow

10:28 AM  

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