(James Patrick Casey, taking the ‘original’ out of, well, ‘original’, since 2013)
Do you remember my novel I’ve mentioned in passing on this blog before? Neither do I, because I’ve only ever used it as an example of my own idleness and inability to do anything creative unless a teacher stands over me prodding me with a stick and threatening infinite detentions if I don’t write that bloody essay. But I’m writing a novel and, in the ten days I took off from this blog, I wrote about 35 pages of that, which meant that my break due to a lack of creativity was spent creating an apocalyptic society from scratch.
But in writing it, I set targets for myself, namely to write 4,000 words a day, which I did for six of those ten days. Then the totals fell to about 2,000 words, then 1,000, then a fifty-word ‘session’, whose very existence severely undermines the practicality of me making a career out of writing. I realised, then, that there is a fine line between setting a goal to motivate yourself each day – i.e. a word count – and becoming obsessed with that goal, that hitting the target is more important than the quality of work your produce, and any enjoyment you may get out of it.
I’ve had it in the past with this blog, where I’ve turned it into a turgid chore for the purpose of maintaining a streak of posts, but I’ve always had the safety net that the blog mirrors my life, and so if my life is boring, the posts based on it will be inevitably uninteresting too; this is why I’ve had no problems taking a break in the middle of long holidays, as I did a fortnight ago, to wait for more interesting things to happen that I could blog about.
But my novel isn’t based around my life (at least not explicitly), and certainly not around the daily occurrences within my life, where each new day of writing is heavily influenced by the life I’ve led that day. Essentially, being too focused on a goal when it comes to writing fiction means that you trade creativity for quantity of work, which is rather inexcusable when fiction can exist, on a basic level, to provide simple escapism from the crapness of reality.
This is my biggest fear of trying to make a career out of writing novels, not that I’ll probably live at home for the next two decades, or that I’ll survive on baked beans and broken dreams alone, or that I’ll have to work really bloody hard just to get a novel published, let alone have it read by more than my family, but that in trying to hit targets, either deadlines from publishers or my own word counts so I feel like I’m making progress, some of my creativity, or technical writing quality, will be undermined.
Of course, just as you must draw a line at the point where you do too much work to be truly original, you must have a lower limit on the amount of work you’re doing; you can’t take a three-year break from writing a novel just so you’ll ‘be more creative, man’ once you actually start working again.
I guess that writing, unlike some careers where your bosses or co-workers will give you targets to complete and tasks to do, is much more dependent on the writer themself, not just in terms of the motivation to get started, but in terms of judging when is an appropriate time to write, and how much one can produce without undermining quality. And considering that writing is usually a deeply individual career, I don’t think I’ll be able to Google ‘how much should I write today?’ and expect to get an answer that works right off the bat. Perhaps this is why I’m doing an English degree, rather than Law or History, because this is the first time I’ll have to create a meaningful work-life balance for myself, one distanced from the world last year when my parents cooked all my food, and drove me everywhere I wanted. This degree will basically be a trial run, where I’m balancing essays with housework and social commitments, and if I can make it work, I might get some joy out of being a professional writer.
And if I don’t, I can always monetise this blog to earn some cash once it gets enough viewers to be economically viable; on an unrelated note, please share this post, and all my 289 others, with all your friends. Cheers.