Michaeline: Timing and Persistence

snow, leafless trees, dawn a'comin'.

Just before sunrise on the Tokachi Plains. (Photo by E.M. Duskova)

Let’s talk a little bit about the pros and cons of the “butt in the seat” method of writing.

But of course, I want to talk about it in a roundabout way so I don’t scare myself.

Two weeks ago, I went to the beach and got some really nice pictures of the jewelry ice. The light was perfect, the clouds cooperated, and I was there at the right place and the right time.*

I love it when that happens, and sometimes it happens with my writing. Writing is a joy, and it’s easy, and damn, it looks good.

It makes the other days feel like a waste of time.

This morning, I got up early (but not early enough) and went to take pictures of the Ice Festival in Obihiro. My pictures were blurry, and even though the weather forecasters had promised sunshine, it was cloudy with intermittent snow. The only nice thing I could say about this morning’s weather is that at -8C (17F), I wasn’t freezing my fingers off.

Almost all the time, my writing feels like this. Unfocused. Not quite right. Obscured.

So why should I write on the bad days?

Ice sculpture of a swordsman on a horse

Sword-swinging samurai of the dawn. (Sculpture by Yoshinori Matsushima. Photo by E.M. Duskova) Charge!

Well, as the cliche goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Even though my ice pictures today weren’t of the kind of gleaming purity that made me gasp in wonder, I got one good picture.

Plus, there’s the matter of atmosphere. The light was terrible, and my camera didn’t capture the scene well, but the air had that really soft quality on my skin that you get during a snowstorm, sometimes. I could see the potential in the ice and snow sculptures, and got some good ideas (someone had carved an ice wasp! Can you imagine the terror of facing an ice wasp? I think my character Jack might . . . one day).

I spent an hour getting some decent exercise in fresh air, and dreaming.

Clear road, car mirror in the corner, and frozen, snowly plains. The sun is a sullen ball behind the clouds.

This was taken two hours after the dawn picture. The light is gone, and now we’re into gothic gloominess, as seen from automobile. Is the light gone, or is it simply a different sort of story? (Photo by E.M. Duskova)

And some days, my writing is like that. Even though the light of inspiration is gone, I’m practicing my craft so I can execute a sentence smoothly when the light comes back again. I find hidden little joys somewhere in those words – although sometimes I must admit, I have to discover them when I come back and re-read the next day. Sometimes, I close the computer feeling I committed 30 minutes of crap, and the next day, I find it’s not so bad after all.

So, I guess what I’m telling myself is that the “butt in the seat” method of daily writing may feel unproductive and frustrating, but it’s a worthwhile practice. Some days you’ve got the light, and some days you are working with something less visible. The secret is to keep working and not define that work too narrowly.

 

*Looking back at that post, you may want to factor in that odd quality of memory when “X is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, and current project Y just sucks so much in comparison.” But that’s another topic for another day.

5 thoughts on “Michaeline: Timing and Persistence

  1. I have an acronym for the butt in the seat method: BITCH. Butt In The Chair, Honey. I got good practice during NaNo. I was committed to getting words on the page, and I did. In hindsight, they weren’t all good words (in fact, there are several sweeping changes I need to make to the first 5-8 chapters), but even if the writing stinks, there’s something about being in your story every day (I’m really trying hard to do that, even if I’m just rereading a scene I edited or wrote).

    I’m with you, the light doesn’t matter, it’s getting your butt in the chair. Moving the story forward, whether it’s good or crap, is what’s necessary to get the job done. I think it all evens out in the end. On good days, whether you’re writing or editing, it will show on the page. And on the bad days — hey, you have something that can be fixed later, and as we all know, the only page you can’t fix is a blank one.

    I’m (still) struggling with being more regimented about my writing. I created a group on FB called The Sprintinators (anyone is welcome to join, we write at all different times, just search for the group and ask to be added) and it’s a gaggle of us who like sprinting (or writing together…sometimes I ignore the clock and just write) — whether we’re writing, editing, or brainstorming — and the camaraderie of doing it together has really helped my motivation. There are days (for all of us) that the writing is good and bad, but what I’ve noticed (at least by listening to the others in our group) is that even when the writing session seems to start out bad, by the end, they’ve made some sort of revelation or forward progress or broken through a wall. Sometimes, as has been the case for me, I’ll have a couple of “bad writing days” in a row, but I can say with certainty that they’ve always led to a major breakthrough or revelation that has made the story better.

    Hopefully next year you can capture more beautiful pictures of ice sculptures. Definitely not something we see here in Arizona. 🙂 But in the meantime, regardless of how well the pictures came out, they’re great inspiration for you.

  2. I love the pink line of light running along the horizon. What an amazing carving! And an ice wasp sounds exactly like the kind of thing Jack would encounter :-).

    I think ‘butt in chair daily’ works well for some writers, not so much for others. And sometimes it works for a while and then stops working. The older I get, the more I realize I have to monitor my own work approaches and adjust accordingly, especially when things start going south. And sometimes I have to pull up my big girl pants and remember that having those days when everything about the story sucks are just part of my process.

    • (-: I was very lucky to get a little pink dawn! Right now, we’re in day two of a three-day snowfall, and if I thought it was gloomy on Saturday . . . well, I’ve got to get better words for today!

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for me — sometimes it (butt in chair) works, and sometimes it stops working. (-: I probably spend more time trying to figure out the “magic formula” to bring back the “it’s working!” time than I do actually writing. In this case, Saturday wasn’t about butt in chair, but refilling the tank.

      And with several inches of snow on the ground and more to come, I’m still refilling the tank! I wonder if a frost god ever gets sick of snow? Or if he’s more like Rex, my wonderpup, who will roll around happily in fresh powder any time, any day?

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