The easy answer is you cannot mix work and vacation. It’s like mixing oil with vinegar and expecting a smooth, consistent salad dressing.
No, I did not write eight hours a day. I spent most of those eight hours emptying my mind of sludge. I did write most days, though, and I learned a few things.
Writing is creative, and while sitting down daily to plough through pages and pages of prose may seem a reasonable objective, there are a few things one needs in place for it to happen:
1. Knowledge of how to write
2. A good workplace
3. A solid story/subject
Of course we are all learning how to write, even the most established and esteemed writers are very good at writing badly. There are no exceptions, and I don’t expect to be exempted. I found myself sitting down, finding my location, and hitting a wall. I’d become frustrated and try to shake it by making coffee, working my garden, or playing online poker. I’m now worth over 6.5 million in Zynga poker if that means anything.
The wall wasn’t so much desire as a lack of vision. I knew my story, but I didn’t know how to make the words right. If I was arguing nutrition or diabetes care, I’d have whipped out thousands of pages no problem, but I wasn’t arguing. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I thought a lot about what I didn’t know.
Here are some snippets of my thoughts: I create images; I create tension; I create wonder; I create empathy; I create story; and I create vision. Sitting down to write words to a quantity objective is pointless. My objectives are not easily quantifiable; they are only assessable by readers viewing my world from afar. My best writing came when I became immersed in my world but also maintained some grasp of my objectives, when I continually examined my own reactions and responded to them. There is a mechanical, technical aspect here, a route to the creative posture that I need to be able to find. This vacation helped me identify the need, the place, and somewhat of a path to it. Still working on this. I may do something almost heretical: I may draft a mental checklist to follow before I write. How ironic would that be?
I also spent some time reading James Wood’s “How Fiction Works.” It’s a wonderful piece of work that creates a clear picture of writing chaos: it’s a damned frustrating read because he doesn’t say anything while saying so much. Yes James, a simple, straightforward description of the scene is tedious and necessary, and yes I think I get your main point: show, don’t tell. Ah, write those boring, dull, drab, mundane descriptions but make them exciting and enriching. You left out one small detail: how?
The rest is all extraneous yet crucial to writing efficiently. We’ve recently installed new floors, still have trim to do, and many of our doors are off or need refitting. My garden has grown weeds very, very well this year, and our clothesline broke yesterday. These are writing distractions. I need to clean up my [new] room, lock the door so my wife cannot pour more junk in it, and kill three cats. I also need to make her understand that at six o’clock in the morning, I don’t want to hear the kitchen radio blasting and her stomping around cleaning last night’s dishes, not while I’m writing. I don’t want any interruptions. I don’t want to be asked if I want boiled eggs. And frankly, I am not able to help pick out paint colors, install new shelves, or safely move a couch while my mind is in a creative mode. Forcing these issues only makes it worse. It kills the whole mood. Hold it awhile dear. I’ll accommodate you after I talk with my mother about our trip there tomorrow. Nothing like killing a mood!
Yes I have a story, a subject, but it has gaps. All stories have gaps while we write them. That’s why writing is so difficult. Not only do I have to get the words right, but I have to build the story right, and there are many ways to skin this cat too. I needed to think about my story. Brawn tightened it up and narrowed it, made it one dimensional. I needed to discover the three dimensional words and ideas. I needed to get away from it, free my mind, and ask some proper questions: why, what’s the point, where’s the tension, empathy, and depth? I asked Stephen King’s question: “what if?” I asked who my protagonists really were, whether certain events fit properly, was I too god-like, and I asked how to get my story back on the road and out of the ditch. You can’t do these things while writing, at least I can’t.
I’m currently still reading and marking up. I am finding my reading voice, and I’m asking reader questions nearly every paragraph.
I think I grew as a writer over these past three weeks. I feel refreshed and ready to work. I think I’ll write tonight.