The Most Important Part Of A Writer's Body
When I talk about writing to kids, I always say to them, All right, guys, what's the most important part of a writer's body? Okay, so what do you think? They say the hands, right? Cause you're writing, right? Okay, Maybe they're a little older, more sophisticated. What do they say? The brain, Your brain, right? All that's true, right? And then I say to them, No kids, that is not the most important part of a writer's body. The most important part of writers body is there. But why? Because if you don't get your butt in the chair, you are not a writer. Discipline is the single most important thing about writing it. What? It's what makes someone a writer as opposed to someone who wants to be a writer. It is the difference between getting your work out and into the world and having it all exist in your head. It's great to have stories in your head. That's wonderful. That's how it being a writer is. So, um, you have to have, in my opinion, I know there. My friend and Packer doesn't believe t...
hat she's you wrote the dive from Clausen's Pier. A great writer but she doesn't have, she writes when the spirit moves her, but she's very lucky. The spirit moves for a lot. For people like me, the spirit moves me to surf the Internet. The spirit moves me to walk my dog. The spirit moves me to eat a lot of doughnuts. The spirit never moves me to go do any writing ever. So, um, I have to have very clear work hours. I work five days a week from the time the kids leave the house until the time they come home. So let me be perfectly honest. In the period of time around the election, I did not work as much as I should have. I spent far too much of that time frantically looking at polls. Waas um, if you met for many people, if you have a really job, your hours, maybe one hour and it may happen early in the morning or late at night or it may be three hours on Saturday and Sunday, whatever it is you say to yourself, what are my hours? And then those hours are sacred. You do not let anybody interfere with them. This is really important to moms and I'm gonna say that again. Moms, even the kids don't mess with your hours. Okay? Those air, your work hours. It's amazing when you are a writer, every, like, can kind of tell you how many times I got calls from the nursery school committee or the parent teacher committee saying, Well, you're right, Are you? You're free all day. You don't understand. I have work hours. Like you have work hours. I just got to do it in my pajamas. Um, so make your work hours. My husband, for example. The writer Michael Chabon. His work hours are 11 at night to five. In the morning. Yeah. 11 at night to five in the morning. It's amazing, uh, how little time we actually spend sleeping in same bed. He said if he's working really hard, he were whole work until six. The kids will see him in the morning when they get up, but everybody has their work hours. You figure out where what your circadian rhythms are. What do your work hours? Most writers, though not all pick a place to work. That is their place. Um, that doesn't have to be in office. Susan straight the author of High Wire Moon You, a Book you Have to read It was nominated for the National Book Award. She wrote for many, many years in In her Car. She dropped her kids off. She pulled into a parking lot, and she wrote in her car, because that's where she could get peace. I've had this kind of peripatetic writing space life. So I was a lawyer when I when I sort of began my working life. I was not a writer. And then I became a stay at home mom. And then I started writing and I never because, you know, I always thought I was gonna be a lawyer forever. I never really believed that I was a writer. So much so that when I was when I got married. So my husband is this novelist, and he had been married to a poet and their marriage had not worked out. And at my wedding, I gave a toast to the assembled audience, and I said, I promise toe always have a job that gives us health insurance that gives us a pension. He will always have the security of my regular salary, and five years later, I was, like, where? We're getting half pictures from a question I'm asking now again. Um, so, uh, because I had these feelings, I had this kind of imposter syndrome all the time. You're not a real writer. You're on maternity leave. You're not a real writer. You're writing commercial fiction. You're not a real writer. Your, You know, all of the time, I felt like I wasn't a real writer sliding. I wouldn't deserve a really office. So for a while, I wrote in cafes, and then I got, um, carpal tunnel's syndrome or whatever repetitive stress injury. And I couldn't do that anymore. Although there are many writers who write in cafes and that's actually perfectly legitimate. God bless the cafe, which, you know, take a cafe that doesn't have internet access. We'll talk about that in a minute. Um, after I couldn't write in cafes anymore, my husband said to me, I'm gonna You can write in my office, will share our my office. He has this little studio in the back of our house. And because we worked a different hours, it was It was it was made sense. So he put a little desk for me and and I worked at that desk. But, you know, he designed that studio and he likes it. Peak. He gets really distracted by an open by a window, so it has no real windows in the workspace. So the dark and it the desks face a wall. And there are a lot of reasons that it wasn't comfortable. Mostly was just it was not my space. For example, the man collects obsolete audio equipment. There's just a lot of a track players everywhere you looked. There were eight track players taking up a lot of both physical and emotional space, and I just never felt like it was my space. And it wasn't until really, really recently, you know, I took women's studies classes. What do you read in every single woman studies class, Anybody a room for you, her own? Hello, Virginia Wilson screaming it for forever. But still, I never felt like I deserved it. And it was on Lee when I finally said to myself, like you, you get toe, have this space. You deserve this space that I really could allow myself to write with the kind of intensity that this this demands you know. So find yourself a workspace. Whatever it is a shared space. They're all these groovy shared spaces now. Ah, cafe ah, corner of your house. If you're lucky enough and you have room in your house, Um, if your Children go to college, just take their rooms over. My parents booted me out and we have six kids in my family. There was no saving rooms when you went. Went to college. So I think my mother took over My I don't even think I was out the door for my freshman year before the room was given to someone else. So you know you can do that. Um, set very concrete goals. So, for myself, my goal is 1000 words a day. Many writers work on the kind of word count because programmes tend tohave word counts. Um, some writers write pages, especially your writing by hand. If that's your medium, you'll sort of gauge pages. How many yellow pages is your goal? Some writers write for a certain number of hours that works for some people. I can't work that way because if I say okay, I'm gonna write for three hours. I will literally spend three hours doing anything else I'll be like, Well, this is writing time. Ah, half very these boots. I have to peel the soul off. Whatever it is, I'll do anything to avoid having to work. So for me it's 1000 words a day. I write my 1000 words then everything else is cake. Once I've got those 1000 words I can keep going. But I don't have Teoh on. And sometimes my best work is done on the you know, the next words. When I was writing this, that were days that I wrote, like 5000 words a day and I just like, I don't know. I mean, it was just so exciting and exhilarating. Um, So there you go. You're your goal. So your your time, your space, your goal, you calf To disconnect from the Internet. I know, I know. But listen, the Internet is a drug. It is an addictive drug. You cannot be. Maybe there's a writer out there who can have, you know, be connected to the Internet and right, I really haven't met one. It is a sinkhole. This is what's happening. You'll be rating along and you'll have a memory and you'll be like, Yeah, that was a Dodge Dart My dad drove. What year was that? I just gonna go find out what year? The Dodge Dart Waas on what? The name of the green waas. And then, like 2.5 hours later, you're reading about how exactly Princess Diana died and you have no idea how you got there and your day is shot. So you can't do that. You can't do that. What? And I am such a freak. I can't just say no Internet today. I actually have to use a program called Freedom that disconnects me from the Internet for a set period of time. I usually say two hours at a time cause I'm an addict and that's about all I can go before I go into withdrawal and the way freedom this app works and there are others like it. You have to do a hard reboot to get back on the Internet. I don't mean just like restart. I mean, like, push that button until it goes there and then you're and that is humiliation enough for me. I like doing like just I won't do that. Hardly but I will do anything else, but not the hard reboot. So that's how I keep it. So So disconnect yourself from the Internet, Amber says. Any guidelines on how much time you should spend on each part of the story arc so a little bit getting back to getting gigantic specifics, I would say it's different in different places in your process. I would say in the beginning with the way I do, it is I do almost a little bit of free writing. I kind of just let myself go. But often the first thing I cut is the first thing I wrote. Not always, sometimes like the first paragraph is brilliant, and I save it for eternity. But often you're kind of like revving your engine. And so when you go back with enough time, you'll be like, Oh, I was just sort of like setting the stage there and I'm gonna cut that. So the rule is you want to start your action? You start your story as close to your story is possible, right? You start. Your story is close to the beginning. I am in. No, sir is close to the end, not as close as possible to tell a good story, you know, and don't give us all the background Just started when the action starts. So, um so I would say that's really, really important. And then for me, every story has its own arc. Every story has its own, its own sort of needs. I always know there's a problem if I'm bored. And if I'm like if I'm sitting on my Honda one, I'm gonna work. I don't want to go to work. I'm like, Okay, what's the problem? And the problem isn't usually the story. The problem is, then I'm not writing scene. So what is the scene? A scene? Is people talking a scene? Is something happening? A scene is not description. A scene is not. Joey had long legs and loved dogs. A scene is like things that happen usually between people, sometimes not. But you want, like think of it like a movie scene. So when I am listless and bored and not eager to get toe work, I usually go back and look at what I'm writing. And I'm like, Oh, yeah, you forgot to write a scene and, you know, 13 books and I still make that mistake. Everybody does that. So I would say for me, the trick is to start with a scene like what is What's the juice here? Start with something happening. Start with people talking. Start with a memory, start with something that's active and then if you want If you're If you this you realize later on that your story needs some introduction. That's okay. Maybe it does, probably it doesn't. But maybe it does. Then you can go back. I'm going to give you another, like just super super specific tip. I love the program. Scrivener. It's Ah, um and everybody figures out their own program or method. Like I have ah, friend to rights longhand on Yellow Pages on how she does that. But, you know, having actually a couple of friends to write longhand. But I like scrivener because it has all of these. It's very it gives you like it breaks things up into files and chapters, and it has places to put your research, and it just makes me feel very professional. It kind of it. I like I have a certain amount of O. C. D. And it kind of feeds into that because it's like, Oh, here's your folder for this And here's your research And I thought so. It gives me a kind of neurotic sense that every place, everything has its space, and I know not a lot of other writers who really like that program. So I highly recommend checking it out. I don't like Microsoft Word because I think it's to feature intensive. I'll look at that page will be like I don't There's so many things that wants me to dio and I don't know where they are And can I just please in dent, Where is that? But you know, So, um, and I also like the pages app that comes with Apple, Although I feel like I'm like, Is there anyone in this peer who uses pages? Really? I'm the only person in America you know, always have a club for, like a small club. It meets at this tiny table, but it is a great app. I love that app. It's very clean and simple, and I just really like it. But it requires you to like export everything in this, and if you fail to export, you get. I can't tell you how many emails I've gotten from editors like I don't know what you just that may, but I can't open it. So, um so Scriven discriminate, you also have to export. But, um OK, so So those are sort of my most technical things. And the thing I want to tell you is some Some books, some essays become really, really easily They just kind of spill out of you that story love another possible pursuits. The one where I was writing about my I am who I almost said who have started about Oh, that would've given it away about the member of my family that I then obscured an obfuscated that spilled out of me in the first draft in two weeks at the MacDowell Colony. Two weeks I wrote a 200 something page first draft. I was in that you know, that zone flow that people talk about where you just everything is coming. I felt almost like I was taking dictation like there were that I could not type fast enough to keep up with the voices in my head. There was one day where the McDowell photographer came to my studio to take my picture. They do that for everybody. And she said she could see me in my studio and she kept pounding on the door and I didn't hear and I needed every music on. I was just writing so fast. And so with such intense focus, there was one day that I wrote 8500 words, I swear, like when I looked at my hands, I had no fingerprints left. I had just like I was on fire. It was the most exciting, exhilarating experience of my life. It also really sucks because it's always there. It's like heroin, you know, I think I've never. But I feel like like people who do heroin, just like we know what it feels like. And so they're always like, Oh, I want that next fix And that's what it all having had that experience of exhilarating flow. I really, really, really want it. The, uh, the other time that that happened for me have a novel called Love and Treasure. That's in three separate sections and the third section, which is told from the point of view of a psychoanalyst in Hungary, um, between world but right before World War that also like spilled out for me in this incredible, exhilarating rush. This Like I said, the first draft of this I wrote in a month. That feeling is amazing. Other things they're really, really become hard. It's like being constipated. You bought out realized toys. I mean, they're just like, Oh, so, like, the second section of love and treasure just I couldn't get it. I mean, it was instead of writing 1000 words, I would have days were like I would spend six hours and I would have written, ah, 100 words and I just wouldn't know what was wrong. And I would just be to get out. And it was brutal, brutal, brutal. My entire novel Red Hook Road was like that. It was painful and it was hard. And sometimes that means the work isn't right. Like I do think the third section of love and treasure is the best. And I do think the second section is the worst. But I actually I'm really, really proud of Red Hook Road. And that book was so hard for me to write. But I think I got it right in the end, so I don't necessarily I'm not saying You have to believe that just because something comes easy, it's good. And just because because something comes is more of a challenge, it's bad. But you just got to know that it's gonna be like that and some days we're just gonna suck and you just gotta slogs through him. I mean, look, it's not mining coal, right? But it's hard work, and it's emotionally challenging work. Do you plot out your ghoul or your aim or your trajectory? I dio before you even start writing. And does it just come to you? Or do you spend like weeks going? What's my plot? What's my goal? So this is what I do, and everybody at writer has their own way. What I do is I start I just right for a while for like, 50 pages or so. I just write whatever I wanted. Every morning I get up, I just right just right. It's almost like free writing. I just write whatever. And then at the end of like somewhere between 30 and 50 pages, I kind of take a step back or in this book it was at the end of the month and I would think? What the hell do you got here? What is this? Is this anything? What is this? And then I impose a structure on it. I don't spend days or weeks outlining. I do a day I take one day and I kind of write a skeleton, a scaffolding for the next draft. And it could be it's very broad. And then I could Then I have that scaffolding. Sometimes I check it sometimes I don't and I just keep going. And then periodically I stop and I go back. I look in my scaffolding and I'm like, Well, you're not doing that anymore and I redo it. And then usually, towards the end of a book, I am freaked out, terrified, convinced I'll never be a writer. And this was also big mistake. And somebody's gonna come with a wheelbarrow and take away all the books and send me back Teoh, you know, be a corporate lawyer doing discovery in a factory in New Jersey, which is not what I did. I was a criminal defense attorney at the federal Public Defender in L. A. But like having to do this if you're any of your lawyers, like the specter of having to do discovery in a some like big piles of any whatever you have your own. But everyone has their own boogeyman. That's fine. Um, but, uh, I will sort of redo my outline at that point with much more specificity, like I'm maybe 3/4 of the way through the book, and I'm like, OK, these were the scenes that I have toe happen Now here's how you're going to reach this climax, and this is what's gonna happen. And that is scene by scene. It's a line for each scene, but it seemed by seeing again, I revise it. I'll change it if things go in different directions, but that will give me the structure I need for me. I don't believe in over outlining, because if I over outline, I betray my characters. I like to sort of let my characters drive the train so that I'm not making choices for plot, cause that I feel like that that ends up with a kind of falseness, and that's more relevant to fiction. But in this case of memoir, I really feel like at some point I need a structure so that I know what story I'm trying to tell because, like once you start telling like stories about how you know your parents, you know, traumatized dio even those of us with wonderful, loving parents, so you could go on forever. And that's just not that interesting for most of us. Like we're not all Frank McCourt's. So you know, the trauma of the middle class Jewish girl in northern New Jersey is perhaps not worthy of his many pages, as I might want to give it. So I have to figure out the structure. Anything online that we should answer. Yes, we have one from Stephanie, she says. Does the concern of the privacy of the other characters and my more paralyzed you at all, especially for your Children and your parents or your loved ones? Yeah, so I've made some mistakes in that area for sure, Not the ones you think like in bad Mother. There's a chapter about my son, who is now a college student to when he was a little boy, said, Hey, I think I might be gay, and I wrote about how much I wanted a gay son and everybody was like, ho, did you do that? but we live in Berkeley, you know? I mean, hello. Everybody's bisexual. They like even the ones to everybody's, like, coming out even if they've never had, You know, whatever. It was a very easy thing. The thing that I didn't realize, though, with the essay that I wrote about breastfeeding when I wrote about how he nursed until he was two years, nine months that devastated it. They called him Boo Boy at school. And I kept trying to say, Dude, with in Berkeley, some of those people are still breastfeeding, but didn't really sink in. So you dio look, speak a parent. Being the spouse of a writer is a dangerous, perilous business. I'm sorry. It's hard. I feel No, I don't. It sucks you. I owe my Children mawr protection than I have learned that I owe my Children more protection than I gave them earlier on in my career. And now I'm much more careful about what I say and do about them what I say and write about them. Um, I regret certain things that I wrote I shouldn't have written about boo boy. Um, but and now, in the internet age, that's particularly important My husband just wrote a beautiful essay about my son for geek Que called my son the prince of fashion, which was a wonderful piece. And we're not none of us. Air. Sorry, he wrote it. I mean, it's been incredibly inspiring for all sorts of people. But my 13 year old son did go even though this has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Go on. The he saw on the Internet like just horrible, cruel, the most vicious kind of homophobic crazy things. And that was, um, uh, hard for him. So, um, although, to his credit, he was just like the next day, he was flying his freak flag high, so that was amazing. Um, Children are resilient, but yet you you do have to figure out how much you're willing to expose. But you also, if you want to write memoir, you are going to write about people. But here's the thing. You know, it's amazing how how, how people don't recognize themselves. I have a good friend who is writing a short story about her family and her experience, and it was a very traumatic moment where her parents were basically each pulling on the other fighting over her when she was a little girl like physically, and showed the essay to her mom and the and her mom was like, You know, for what I thought this was memoir about us. But now I realize it's fiction because, like, you know, that the character drives a Volvo and I had a sob because which Swedish car you drive so you know, you just it is. It can be dangerous. You just have to if you have to be honest and you have to know that you're motivated not by revenge is a terrible motivator for a memoir. If you're in the business of revenge, you shouldn't be writing memoir. But, um, if if there's a greater purpose than it's, it's worth it.