Last night I found myself curled up in my living room chair (as supposed to my bedroom chair, where I'm now writing this) with AK stretched out on the couch. For the first time in long time we were quietly reading together; I had the aforementioned Murakami and AK had the first volume of White Wolf's collection of Fritz Leiber. There are the usual reasons for the rarity of such an event. We're both busy and often work on opposite schedules. AK reads novels at a much slower pace than me and in random spurts. However he's constantly reading stuff online while holed up in his cave. I'm still very much attached to my print and a good light source. This reliance on print is partially because the last thing I want to do when I come home from 8 hours of staring at a computer screen is to stare at another one (yes, I know I'm doing it right now, but how else to share?). I'm also addicted to the smell of ink and the texture of paper. I freely admit that I am a fan of the book as a sensual and tactile experience.
More on that at another time. The reason I bothered to mention such an idyllic domestic scene is for the conversation AK and I had about working as a writer and that it is, in fact, work. I have long lived under the illusion that writers just sat down and magically perfect prose or verse flowed out from their pens. Take Dickens. Clearly he would realize a chapter was due and then set about furiously scribbling, jumping out of his chair to mime a face in the mirror, and then back to the desk so he could finish his copy before taking a long and brisk walk through the seedier sections of London, followed by an evening at the theatre where he would talk long and loud and probably crack a few jokes at Thackeray's expense and then back the next morning to dash off another chapter.
I don't need my (otherwise useless) degrees in Victorian Studies to deduce that Dickens didn't just sit down and effortlessly compose fourteen and a half novels and god knows how many Christmas books and magazines (Kathleen Tillotson probably knew...). He worked hard and it was his dedication to his craft that made him one of the greatest novelists in the English language (NOTE: Those of you who were subjected only to Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities should go and pick up a copy of Bleak House and read the first page or so outloud to yourself. Then you can judge.) Murakami dedicates the early hours of the morning to writing every day. John Updike actually rented office space early in his career and still writes a set amount every day during the same set hours.
Well, not entirely. If I was a writer, it would make sense to dedicate at least several hours a day to my work. Just as a musician must practice, so must writers. I was a musician at a point in my life. I practiced 5-6 times a week for anywhere from half an hour to an hour, not including lessons or rehearsals. I gave up on majoring in music because I realized that not only would I never master the rudiments of piano or music theory (small stumbling blocks) but that I couldn't bring myself to practice enough. I couldn't force myself to do scales or articulation work for more than the prescribed minimum of thirty minutes. If I had an English horn and some Vaughn-Williams I could get up to over an hour, but interpreting Vaughn-Williams's cello pieces on English horn isn't exactly the most promising career option (the choice of Victorian Studies now appears blatantly obvious).
I don't mean to argue that in order to do something that you love you must do it every waking moment of your life. That would only leave you miserable and hating whatever it it you originally loved. However if you're thinking on taking on the New York Philharmonic, it might behoove you to practice for more than 3 hours a week. I'm competent at my job because I do it for 40 hours a week and have done so for two years now. It's not because I think that composing Local Holdings Records in OCLC is the greatest form of expression possible (okay, you could wax poetic in an 866 field), but rather because I create these records all the time. For a writing related example, let's take the manual I'm composing for one department. My early entries, written at least a year ago, are long winded, obscure, and poorly formatted. My newer entries are shorter, tighter, and easily skimmed. Practice, fucking practice.
This is why I'm sitting here in my chair (the bedroom one, not the living room one) and writing. I'm still not sure if I have anything really important to say, but I'm practicing.
3 months ago