Thursday, March 20, 2008

Get Going with the Grunt Work

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So I was googling Jodi Picoult the other day (thanks for the tip, Kristyn!), and started reading an interview with her that detailed her road to (overwhelming) success. It turns out that just like the rest of us, Ms. Picoult was once a nobody - someone with a day job that she didn't particularly love and someone who ran home at night and tucked in her kids and then started writing. What I found most interesting about the entire article was this quote:

"'Writing,' she says, offering me a slice of home-baked lemon and buttermilk sponge cake, 'is total grunt work. A lot of people think it's all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don't buy that. It's a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don't. Every day I sit down and write. You can always edit something bad. You can't edit something blank. That has always been my mantra.'"

And the reason I loved it is because of late, I've had so many people tell me that they've written half of their manuscript and that's it, or really have a great idea for a novel but haven't started, or feel stuck and can't motivate to write...(people tend to mention these things once you've been published, trust me), and I always sort of want to shake them and say, "If you don't at least attempt to write it, you'll have nothing! You may as well try, because you can't end up any worse than where you are now - with nothing!" (And I'm not referring to any Ask Allison readers! These are all people in my real life, so don't worry!) Of course, it would be wildly inappropriate to shake said people at my son's school or at a dinner party or whatnot, but the overall point is true, and Picoult really drives this point home.

Look, writing can be total grunt work. It's not always - and often isn't - fun. There are times when I'm working on a manuscript when the last thing in the world that I want to do is actually write. But if I don't write...I'm left with nothing. That blank page doesn't fill up by itself. And since I'm the only one who can fill it - and really, that's the goal of this whole deal, to fill up enough pages until I've told a good story - I better get going. Even if every cell in my body is telling me to find yet another way to procrastinate. I had half a manuscript sitting on my computer for two years until I finally finished it. And it wasn't until I finished it that my career as a novelist started going somewhere. Because until I did - until you do - there's simply no place to go. Period.

Something is always better than nothing. Even if it's one page. Even if it's 15 minutes a day. You can manage that. It's a drop in the bucket.

So if you're stalled, remember that Jodi Picoult, just like the rest of us, starts with a blank page, and she has to work her way out of that hole. If she didn't try, she'd be left with nothing...and so too will you.


robin ann mcintosh said...

i love this blog, but i never comment - so i thought i would add a good quote i try to read when i don't want to man up and write for my hour-a-day quota: hemingway said, "the most important thing," about a rough draft, "is that you finish it". just thought i'd share :)

Keetha said...

What a great post! Thanks for that. I think I may well print this out and read it. I'm quite prone to thinking and feeling that I don't have anything to write about, I don't have anything to say, I don't have any ideas. One thing I know for sure, though, is once I start writing, the ideas, they come. The more you write, the more you write.

Trish Ryan said...

You can't edit something blank...what a great point. Thanks for the much-needed reminder.

Sue said...

So true, so true . . . said...

Great post. Can you leave a link to the article where you found the quote from Picoult?

You are so right about getting something, anything down on the paper...because even if 90% of it is cr*p, the 10% that's saved could lead you in a wonderful direction. And I really believe we improve when we are writing, even the bad stuff.

cce said...

I'm here by way of Suzanne and I'm sooo glad I came. I've been banging up against my own self doubt recently and really needed to read this. I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I have been sitting on a manuscript and just can't seem to get back into it. After reading this I am not going to put it off any longer and will start to read it again and add another chapter and another until I finally finish it.