Do the Work

(The second in a series of writing tips you don’t need and didn’t ask for, but are going to get, such is my otherworldly generosity.)

Writing Tip #2
Do the Work

Novels, stories, poems, memoirs—whatever your pleasure—sometimes may seem to write themselves. But they don’t. You have to get your butt into the chair and in front of the keyboard or however it is you write, and do it. I have known writers, or people who wanted to be writers, who liked talking about writing better than they liked to write. Not a good plan.

If you’re a morning person, a night owl, or an overstressed mother of four young children, you have to be ruthless and steal time to, as Nike has it, just do it. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but just as I did, you have to find what works for you. How do you do that?I have no idea. It’s entirely up to you. I like mornings. When I was in high school, I had a paper route, and I loved walking around my neighborhood before anyone was up. Here in the Northern Virginia suburbs, it was not as crowded as it is now, and the highway near my  parents’ house was nearly deserted at five in the morning. I loved that sense of being alone and doing my job. Occasionally, I’d see the kid who had the route in the neighborhood that adjoined where my route was. Later in high school, I worked for a news dealer, driving his truck around, dropping off bundles of newspapers. That required getting up at about one, and I loved that. I remember writing poetry on the backs of envelopes, or jotting down ideas. They weren’t very good, but still I was (I guess) figuring out how to be a writer and get the work done.

Sometimes, it really feels like work. Other times it feels like reading a good book—that sense of getting lost in an idea—and I can go for hours without really even noticing any time but the time in the story. And it feels just as good with bad work as it does with good work.

I imagine that it is similar with other creative pursuits. The Zen sensation of being lost in another world. But whatever the pursuit, it can be painful to get started, especially if you’re less experienced. Once you get past the pain, though, the work will sustain you. The more you do it, the more you will know that getting past the pain is worth it.

Fair warning, though. Seems to me that there is something deeply weird about spending lots of time by yourself, playing with imaginary friends, which fiction sometimes seems to me. Your real friends will think you are very strange for wanting to spend more time with the imaginary ones. Ignore them. They don’t have your imagination, clearly.

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About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

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