Last week, I encouraged listeners to try out Raymond Chandler’s writing approach to avoid resisting the work of writing and, perhaps, to write inspired:
Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. (154 Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler)
How did it go?
Chandler freed us to look out the window or stand on our heads or writhe on the floor. But during the time we set aside for writing we were not to do any other positive thing—not read, write letters, check Facebook, or heart a photo on Instagram.
We were to write or do nothing.
I contrasted this with the grit-it-out-and-churn-it-out approach that many people advise. You might have heard the quote that’s been attributed to several people: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
I shared that Barbara Kingsolver said she had no time to lure the muse into her creative process and wait for it, like many writers she admired.
As she explained in High Tide in Tucson, when she was a young mom, her writing time began the minute her daughter climbed on the school bus. At that point, she said her muse flipped a baseball cap around on his head backwards and said, “Okay, author lady, you’ve got six hours till that bus rolls back up the drive. You can sit down and write, now, or you can think about looking for a day job” (96).
I don’t know which approach is more realistic or will produce better writing, so I proposed we give them both a test run.
There’s the write-or-do-nothing approach of Raymond Chandler. If I got bored, an idea would eventually pop into my head and I’d be back to tapping away at the keyboard.
Then there’s Kingsolver’s approach, where we sit down and write, now, whatever we can as best we can, to get it out and meet deadline.
If you tried Raymond Chandler’s approach, I’d love to hear how it worked for you. Or if it worked at all. Did you sit for hours and do nothing? Or did the doing nothing part end up energizing your creativity?
This week, when you set aside your four hours, or two hours, or half an hour to write, you’ll still have to avoid the temptation to click over and check email or pop up to fold laundry. The basic advice is the same from both Raymond Chandler and Barbara Kingsolver. You have to sit there. But where Chandler says you don’t have to write, Kingsolver’s muse urges her, “Get to work. Pound out some words.”
Chandler said write, or do nothing.
I think Kingsolver was saying write. Period.
Kingsolver’s approach is that you’ve got six hours, or four, or 20 minutes, or whatever, until your writing time is over. “You can sit down and write, now, or you can think about looking for a day job.”
This week, as part of our experiment, try the Kingsolver approach.
Sit down and write, now, whatever you can, as best you can. Get it out, get it down, and meet deadline. No stopping, no staring, no waiting, no writhing.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- Episode #67: Either Write or Nothing
- Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane. New York: Columbus University Press, 1981
- High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver
* * *
You can subscribe with iTunes, where I’d love to have you subscribe, rate, and leave a review.
The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.
Is your writing life all it can be?
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.
“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.”
—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales
Lynn Hopper says
I was always on deadline, as you well know. But sometimes had to take time to just sit and stare out the window and get my thoughts in order. If I were at the office, friends would sometimes mistake it for down time and start chatting. But, I was really doing my hardest work at that point.
Ann Kroeker says
Ah, that sounds more like Raymond Chandler’s assignment, which was to sit there and do nothing fun (but staring out the window was totally allowed–also, he allowed for writhing on the floor!).
Yes, months ago I almost recorded a podcast about staring out the window and was going to base the entire thing on my childhood, knowing I wasn’t to bother you if you were in your office but not typing. Even though you seemed like you were taking a break, you made it clear that staring time was work time, too. I never forgot that (especially when I do a fair amount of staring myself). 🙂
Rebecca Campbell says
Wow, this is a tough one. I’m still grabbing snippets of writing time here and there. I’m still putting day job and kids first, despite my husband’s insistence that he supports my writing. I keep thinking “just let me finish this audit; the summer holidays; this rough week and then I’ll carve out a time to write or nothing”. I guess you just have to do it, right?
Ann Kroeker says
Rebecca, I think you just do it if you possibly can, but you also need to give yourself some mom-grace. I did what you did, grabbing snippets, slipping the writing into the nooks and crannies of my days. You can keep that work alive and in motion. And listen to your husband’s belief in your work. Sounds like he’s ready to help, to make this happen in your life!
I like the Kingsolver approach.
Ann Kroeker says
Ah! So you are getting ideas down in that time? Excellent.
Ann Kroeker says
Thanks for reporting back on your experiment!