Dec 1, 2010

the man with the whip

For the past three months, I have been unemployed. Usually this statement would elicit a myriad of different emotions: despair, worry, doubt... Fortunately, for me, the circumstances are voluntary. My one fear, though, in days of worklessness, is that my writing would suffer.

But how? You might ask. With all the free time in the world, you could write so much. Get so much done.

You would think, wouldn't you?

See, for me, writing is about discipline. Discipline usually goes hand in hand with routine. To do something well, you must do it often. To do something often, you must set aside specific times to do said thing. Quiet times, exercise, writing--all of these require discipline. The same standard is true with any art form.

As John Gardner once said in his wonderful book On Becoming a Novelist (and I'm paraphrasing because all of my books are still tightly packed in about a dozen boxes): Behind every successful author is a man with a whip.

The man with the whip makes me get up a few hours early each morning and shuffle to my laptop, where-- with crusty eyes-- I type out yet another two pages to a seemingly endless rough draft. The man with the whip makes me read my manuscript a 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th (etc) time and make endless revisions to characters and scenes. The man with the whip pushes my past the agent rejections and those fruitless hours of drafting and editing.

The man with the whip is cruel--but I couldn't survive without him. Well, my characters and plots couldn't survive without him. It is because of this man with the whip that in the past two weeks, instead of sitting on the couch watching Lost and Firefly reruns, I've been unleashing 10,000 words of my latest project. I could rest on the laurels of my latest full manuscript request, but that little bugger just keeps nudging me. In my head he's waving a rather threatening set of cat o'nines, and I'm dashing ahead of him as far as I possibly can.

So my advice? If you want to be successful in anything, whether it be art, music, writing, academics, cooking... Find your inner man with the whip. Sounds so masochistic doesn't it? Perhaps every artist has a bit of a masochistic streak. Why else would we pour so much time and effort and sweat and pain into something that might never see the light of day?

There's tons more to be said about discipline and anti-procrastination and how it's beneficial to life and writing-- but for now, I'll just leave you with this:

color didn't come through. pretend my hair is brown.


  1. I see what you are saying and I agree. It is good to stay focused and on top of things and devoted to your craft. As a developing writer, you have to be. But, from my experience, I would encourage you to keep your mind open. As your life changes and progresses, so will your priorities. And maybe you will reach a point (as I did) where you will have to tell that man with the whip to be still for a while because you have little babies to raise and love and savor because they are little babies for such a short time (or something else in your life that claims your time and attention). And then some day, down the road, he can come back again.

  2. A valid point, Erica. I agree that there are certain things you can allow yourself indulgences for. At this time in my life--I don't worry too much about writing every day when I'm traveling or on vacation--even if I have the leisure to do so. It's good for my sanity. :)