Why I Write

Or as my chum Status Viatoris asked me, where do I get the inspiration from to write something every single day (from Dec 1 2009 until ... well, until I stop) ?

I'm not sure how I've managed to get through almost a year of daily blogging now, but I think the key has been resolving to write something, anything, every day, even if it wasn't very good (look at some of the desperation I had in groping for a subject in December of 2009, or indeed slightly earlier this week). Charles Stross and Richard Herring (the twin inspirations for this) both stress a lot that this is an occupation that you have to do, and keep doing, to get good at.

I was reading the afterword to Good Omens last week, and in there Neil Gaiman writes that Terry Pratchett *always* writes 400 words every day. Even if he finishes a novel at the 300 word count, he'll do the first 100 of his next. Similarly, some successful authors (Ludlum, I think) would just write 3,000 words every morning, as if that was just what you did. Which I suppose is what a writer is - somebody that writes - but if you've read some books written that way, you'll see there are flaws with that approach too. Never mind the quality though - feel the length!

Now the trouble with that is that you'll probably have days where you don't want to write, or you don't have anything to write, or (in my case) my girlfriend might get mad at me for writing when I should be concentrating on her. But if you accept that, and still push yourself to write something, anything, then over time, you'll get better at being able to just pump out that many words every day.

Which sounds rather soulless, but I think of it as being a bit like studying Japanese calligraphy. You keep writing the same kanji for fifty years, exactly the same way every time, until you're really really good at writing that kanji. Then you get to do something creative. If you're lucky, you can do something creative earlier, but then you might not.

So basically you're upping your chances: if you want to take a good photograph, you need to take 50, and you'll probably have one good one. You might get the good one on the first shot, but if every time you go for 50, you'll be more likely to get one good one, and then gradually over time you build that ratio up, until 2 out of every 50 are reliably good, then 3, then 4 ... Similarly, the more you write, the more utter bilge you may produce, but even if you're doing 10% brilliance and 90% bilge, that still means more brilliance.

(Not that I think what Ms Viatoris writes is bilge - everything on her blog fills me with envy that I can't put something as succint together, yoked as I am to my bash-out-a-random-number-of-words-every-day harness. Particularly those little conversational snippets with old Italian ladies, that I find really affecting. It feels like it's had somebody devote some painstaking time to getting all the words exactly write, rather than just throwing it all at the wall and seeing what sticks.) But it's all about doing lots, and then filtering for the good stuff.

And you don't have to stick everything up on the web, but if you do, it means you've got more incentive to write something every day, so people don't start asking you why you've stopped.

But I guess that all I've done there is describe my motivation for writing every day, not for where you get inspiration. That's much harder to describe, but I guess every day something happens to you (unless you were in bed all day, which is sort of an event in itself). So you always have something to capture. And if really nothing happened, you could always read the newspaper until you find an example of human stupidity to be offended by. The only thing I don't like reading (or writing) is somebody writing about the creative process, because that so often feels like just writing for the sake of it.

Er. I've gone on a bit there. And I'm tired enough that I keep typing the wrong homophone (had to correct fills to feels at least twice in the above) so I'll stop now.

November 10, 2010