Yesterday, I encountered an old writing acquaintance. I wouldn’t call this person a friend because I usually ever crossed paths with them in large writing groups and more specifically, in the annual library write-ins for National Novel Writing Month. There are different kinds of write-ins during NANO and we’ve discussed them casually on the podcast. Most of them are just excuses to socialize with other writers during the (inter)national event. The library events, however, are hardcore marathon writing events that the organizers take very seriously.
Let’s call the acquaintance Milton. He’s the Great American Writer waiting to happen. He’s been waiting for that to happen for about thirty years. He’s also been writing the same two projects for the last thirty years. He drifts between a Catcher in the Rye knock-off and a space opera. This space opera is currently a little over 400k, and he’s nowhere near finishing. “Greatness can’t be confined,” as Milton told me years ago.
During our encounter, Milton asked me about my current work, and I deflected. Not because I’m remotely ashamed of how much time I spend writing fan fiction versus original work these days but because I’ve never once in all the time I’ve known Milton had an actual discussion about my own writing. I did tell him that I’d made a goal to write every day this year and that I’d already written every day since the 26th of December and that I’d written a little over 70k since I’d started keeping track.
Milton, just about five years older than me, patted me on the shoulder like I’m a child and asked, “Isn’t that a little unreasonable?” He went on to give me a little lecture about burn-out and using up my creativity.
My mother flicks a hand between us like she’s warding off an evil spirit (she probably was) and says, “Her creativity sprung from my womb, she’s got enough to last a hundred years because I was fertile as fuck.”
On a side note, this is what I get for letting my mother proofread shit for me.
Milton was understandably taken aback by the discussion of my mother’s womb. He stared for a moment and looked down at his coffee like it might hold the words he couldn’t find in his brain. So I took pity on him, which is something I rarely do because you might have already noticed his philosophy about writing is a stark contrast with my own. I explained that inspiration isn’t a finite resource and that creativity begets creativity. He gave me this sour look that spoke, deeply, to his disagreement. It didn’t surprise me since he’d been beating the same two ideas to death for the better part of three decades.
He resents me for publishing at a young age and begrudges me more for the fact that I largely backed away from professional publishing of my own accord. Milton finds that appalling, but he’s never understood that being a pro-author was never really an integral part of my dreams as a writer. I wanted to write. I wanted to be read. I wanted to share my ideas with the world and when I first started writing, the best way to do that was to seek publication. The Internet changed that. I’m not advocating self-publication for original work. I firmly believe that a professional publication process is what serves a writer best when it comes to their original work. I don’t care what your arguments are regarding the situation.
Then he said something fascinating that struck a chord. I’m still pondering it. He said, “It’s just easier for you because you’re a plotter.”
Is it? Is it easier for me to sit down every single day to write because I have a plot? Does my zero draft or plot document represent some sort of daily action plan? I don’t know the answers to these questions, really. Because sometimes I do sit down, pick up my zero draft, review my plot points, and start writing on my current project. That being said, I have zero drafts (and the half-finished projects to match) that are decades old that I have no desire to actively work on.
It’s not about the plotting process—it’s not about the process that gets you to the story. It’s about making the decision to write and figuring what gets in your way so you can work your away around it. I told him that writing isn’t easy, but I’ve never sat down at a keyboard and bled for my craft. Perhaps, there have been times when I’ve forced myself to work on projects and pushed through because I had a plan to follow.
Pablo Picasso said, inspiration exists, but it has to find you working, and that is the crux of the matter.
Inspiration finds me working, and it’s my plan to have it find me working for a very long time to come.