Wednesday, December 21, 2005

It Comes in Spurts

You damned, dirty-minded people. Cut that out. I'm talking about writing.

I wrote Transit Gloria using the BIC (butt in chair) method, and I'm glad I discovered it. Without it, there would never have been a finished manuscript with my name on it. With it, there will never be another one. I've decided to discard it.

Unlike a lot of writers, I don't make myself write until I reach a word count, or until a certain amount of time has elapsed. I simply write until I've accomplished whatever I need to accomplish next. When a character needs to disappear from the story for a while, I sit down and write him out of the story. Then I take a break. When a story needs to reach a peak, I write its way up the mountain. Then I take a break. When I need someone to make an entrance, I write them in. Then I take a break. Sometimes these breaks last for weeks. This is my new writing method. I call it the butt-in-chair method.

"Wait," you protest, "that isn't the butt-in-chair method. You can't take weeks off. You have to put your butt in the chair. Every day."

I disagree. I think what you have to do, is put your butt in the chair when you are ready to write. Not a moment before, and not a moment after. I put my butt in the chair when I 'm ready to write, and then I write the stuff that makes my chair-time worthwhile.

I tried to force myself into the chair while I was writing Transit Gloria, and when I wasn't ready to write but tried anyway... I produced some of the most hideous stuff you will never read. Absolute garbage flowed out onto the page. Hideous, stilted, uninspired tripe. When I went back to revise the story, those pages ended up looking like the scene of a chainsaw murder. There was red EVERYWHERE. I swear I spent more time revising each of those scenes than I did revising any ten of the scenes where I just let the writing flow.

This is how I write for the paper. I interview people, I cover events, I attend meetings, and when I'm ready to write the story, it just pours out of me. It's easy, and I'm prolific. Today I wrote twelve stories. They just flowed out of me and onto the page.

My fiction writing changed with the things I learned while writing Transit Gloria. During TG, I had one night of writing that I remember like you remember a night of lovemaking with your soulmate. I remember everything about that night - the sights, the smells, the taste on my lips... I wrote almost 12,000 words that night. I created a character from the rawest of materials, and led him through the event that forged his entire future. I gave him life, I gave him love, and I broke his heart, and the writing was almost like an extended orgasm. When I finished, I was exhausted, and elated, and convinced that it would always be that good.

I'm sorry to say it isn't always that good, but knowing it can be, makes me want to keep writing. It keeps me ready, and gets my butt in the chair. Because when it's good, when it's really good, it comes in spurts.

Mark Pettus,
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

21 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger serenity, Blogger Kelly Parra, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger Dawno, Anonymous Kristie911, Anonymous Kristie911, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Dawno, Blogger Mark Pettus, Anonymous PDF Writer, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Rob Gregory Browne, Blogger Amie Stuart, Blogger downward spiral, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Mark Pettus, Anonymous kathie, Blogger Moni,

Let me know what you think

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at 10:50 PM Blogger serenity said...

The feeling, I know it well.

I had four glorious months of unemployment in which every night was one of those nights. I may never have that opportunity again, but the novel I wrote in those four months contains the best damn writing of my life.

Now, since taking the magazine job, I'm lucky to churn out a scene every few weeks. Part stress, part demotivation, part agent/publisher frustrations. But, when it does come, it comes with a fury ... and the after-glow. Oh, the after-glow.

at 11:06 PM Blogger Kelly Parra said...

Interesting and true, Mark. Writing comes in spurts for me as well. If I don't feel the writing vibe I close the doc. It's a waste of time to force myself if I can't focus. And yes, it's a great feeling when the story plays out. =)

at 12:17 AM Blogger anne frasier said...

orgasm, smorgasm. all this sex talk in blogland -- must have to do with the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. ;)

i do agree with you, mark. those unforced communions are the best. sometimes i remember them with some clarity, but more often i hardly remember writing the scenes at all.

at 12:49 AM Blogger Dawno said...

I needed a cigarette after that post.

It is so valuable to see how the process works for writers, thank you for sharing that insight.

Oh, and I responded to a comment you made on my blog if you want to wander back by and read it.

If we don't 'cross paths' again before Sunday, Merry Christmas.

at 2:21 AM Anonymous Kristie911 said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who writes like this...I've always been embarassed to admit that I might go a week without writing a word and am better for it. Insightful post, Mark. As always! Merry Christmas.

at 2:24 AM Anonymous Kristie911 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

at 5:36 AM Blogger Bernita said...

Here's to ya, Mark and Merry Christmas.
~friggin' rule makers~

at 9:21 AM Blogger Jeff said...

mark- I have never had, nor do I ever plan on having any type of sexual relationship with this laptop, real or imagined.

Having said that, let me say I also used to set word goals or page goals but found it didn't work for me. If the muse is sleeping, or simply ignoring me, I just have to wait it out. :)

at 3:51 PM Blogger Dennie McDonald said...

That's me hello - I cannot force myslef to do the word/page count but am most prolific when I am least expecting it. It's worse though when it wakes you at 5 am ...

at 12:36 AM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Serenity - When I was drawing unemployment and writing, I told someone that I was using a government stipend to finish my book.

I'd kill to be able to write fiction full-time.

-- If you're from the NSA and reading this under the auspicies of the Patriot Act or some hitherto unknown imperial directive: I wouldn't really kill. It's a figure of speech.

Kelly - Writing Vibe? Now, that's clever. So, does writing also recharge your batteries?

Anne - Orgasm, Smorgasm... since you're multi-published, does that mean... ;)
I like the phrase "unforced communions." It has a way of sounding spiritual, and yet a little dark and twisted.

Dawno - Fresh fruit. Better for you than cigarettes, and it does recharge your batteries. You never can tell when you'll want to read the same post twice on the same night.

kristie911 - I didn't know you read my blog. Welcome.

Bernita - I read the news. I know about you Canadians. You bring a whole new meaning to making merry.

Jeff - is your muse male, or female?

Dennie - I don't mind playing near the edge, but that thing about it waking you at 5 a.m.? I can't think of anything to write that isn't completely...

Merry Christmas, One and All. And from one of the greatest minor characters to ever grace a page, "God Bless Us, Everyone."

at 11:01 PM Blogger Dawno said...

Fresh fruit. In my mind's eye I see a movie starlet in bed with the satin sheets pulled up just enough for PG13. She's reclining against a pillow, looking a bit disheaveled but satisfied - with a bowl of fruit in her lap and taking an enormous bite out of a peach...

at 4:05 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

You know... in my minds eye, the best rating you can ever hope for is "R", and that usually involves cutting at least part of every scene.

Try this image, sandy beach, fresh papaya, its juices running down. Hot, sweet, sweat...

at 3:39 AM Anonymous PDF Writer said...

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at 10:44 AM Blogger Dennie McDonald said...

I don't mind playing near the edge, but that thing about it waking you at 5 a.m.?

Are you saying that's not ... normal?!?! =)

at 12:13 PM Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Nice spam pdf writer.

Mark, I like the BIC method. Very close, I'd imagine, to my own AIC technique. My version's slightly more crude, however.

at 1:36 PM Blogger Amie Stuart said...

My CP writes like that--different strokes for different folks (yes I"m a perv but honestly, what do you expect from a smut writer?).

I do find that making a habit of writing every day is best (I'm inherently lazy) and I used to be a vomit writer--even with a full time job and two kids I could write 10-15 pages a night. Now? I need writer's viagra *sigh*

at 5:55 PM Blogger downward spiral said...

I can see I've been going about this writing business all wrong.

at 5:51 PM Blogger Bernita said...

Mark, I assure you I never made Merry - I'm straight.

at 11:00 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Dennie-I think I was making a dirty joke, but it's hard to be sure... my mind ways in works mysterious.

Rob-Crude is an oil we used to pull out of the ground in Texas... I know crude very well. It can be refined into a lubricant. Lubricant and the part of my body I put in the chair are two things that have no business in the same sentence.

Cece-Your email newsletter gives me endless entertainment. Well, not exactly endless, because there is an end, a climax, so to speak, but you know what I mean.

Spiral-You seem a bit touchy about this whole thing. I assure you that I only know what works for me. If taping your keyboard to the ceiling fan and typing with your toes while standing on your head on a lazy susan works for you, by all means, spin-on, brother. Spin on.

Bernita-I get straight sometimes, usually while looking at pictures of Canadian Lesbians. I get as straight as a ruler.

Enough double-entendre for one year?

at 10:12 PM Anonymous kathie said...

I agree that once you find that "flow," and experience something like you did on your 12,000 words in one night, you can find it again. And for me it comes easier each time. It's a zone, I think. A meditation of sorts. Something you have to find for yourself as you did.

at 8:21 PM Blogger Moni said...

Your third paragraph, the way you describe your writing's beautiful and eloquent and hot! Somebody bring me a fan. ;)


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