Monday, March 27, 2006

Discipline, or lack there of

So I didn't write anything over the weekend and I'm feeling vaguely guilty about that. As I said in the previous post, I don't know if there was anyone coming to the blog and going "Where is that bastard? He hasn't posted anything this weekend and I need my fix." It was more being disappointed in the lapse of discipline. I used to read stories about J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) who took two days off each year from writing - his birthday and Christmas Day.

And that was it. He wrote every other day of the year. Even when he didn't want to. Especially when he didn't want to. That was the discipline he set up for himself. Which worked. For three years he wrote every episode of Babylon 5. Twenty-two episodes a season. It might not seem a lot, but read a good television script sometime and realize the deadlines and pressures TV writers are under and you'll be in awe of the achievement. I don't think it's been done since.

You hear that about some writers. That they establish their disciplines and routines. Because it is really very easy to not write when you're a writer. It's dead simple not to write. You simply lie there, thinking you really ought to be writing something, but it's quite relaxing - and a whole lot less frustrating - doing the whole not writing thing. Yeah, there's guilt, but you can get over that easily enough.

I've done that before. I'm trying to break the habit.

I've said before that I think I'm working towards...something in this blog. I don't know if it's a short story or a book or what. But I'm getting there, slowly but surely.

So what's the discipline with the blog? At first it was just getting it started. I failed in my first attempt, getting about 10 posts in before giving up for the better part of six months. Then I got going again last September and was posting on a regular basis. The next step was to post something everyday. The next step was to not cheat and post quizzes or just links, but to actually write something.

I was doing pretty good with that until last weekend. So I've got to get on another roll.

So what are the next steps? Well, along with writing something everyday I'd like to write something good every day. Which of course is the real trick. I think my writing tends to be better when I'm trying to be funny. The sarcastic, humourous columns when I was with The Express and The Packet always got better feedback than the more serious ones. There are plenty of angry, serious columnists. People like the ones that can make you laugh or, better still, can take a current event and make you chuckle. It's why Mark Critch was so popular with The Express before he moved onto This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I know some of my colleagues can never understand while Paula Tessier with The Express is still there. It's because she's the paper's most popular columnist. People love her. Because she makes them laugh.

She's also likely doing lasting psychological damage to her kids, but that's another story.

I think the three best columns I ever wrote were:

1. The one where I used pseudo bible speak and compared Tobin, when he was running federally in 2000 and we had a horrible month of no sunshine during the election, to a false prophet promising even sunlight, if only people would vote for him. I won an award for that one.
2. The one where I listed off the seven roommates I had gone through since moving to Clarenville and how nearly every one of them was crazy.
3. The one where I complained about how miserable my dating life was and used the phrase "bunny boiler" to describe the kind of women I was meeting. It wasn't original, but by God the fine folks in Clarenville and area seem to think it was genius. Still didn't get any dates though.

I've written hundreds of columns. I can't remember lots of them. But I remember those. Because I knew they were good once I finished them. And the feedback bore that out. i want to get to that level on the blog. Where I can write something, and do it on a regular basis, that I know is good and that people will like.

You know, it occurs to me that this particular blog entry is neither humourous nor quippy. But I'm working on a thought process here. Humourous and sarcastic resumes tomorrow.

So once I can write everyday and write something that I like, then I guess I work on the next step: something fictional. To an extent I play with that now. If I'm talking about Cathy I'm just as like to twist things a bit. I just have to work on distorting them more, right into the realm of fiction.

All of this must surely seemed contrived, but I'm figuring this out as I go along. No one ever taught me to write. I just started. The best comment I ever got on my writing was from my old History thesis advisor from MUN - Valerie Burton. When critique a paper she said "I'm sorry to see the lamentable influence of The Muse in your writing." She said it with scorn, but right then and there I knew that I was done with History and was going to become a journalist. Because writing for the newspaper was infinitely more fun than writing history papers. And why write if you're not having fun?

I just need the discipline to write better and more often. Because I'll have more fun then, right? At least that's what I tell myself.

I'm sure there are easier ways, but I'll get to where I'm going eventually.

Hopefully sometimes before I retire would be nice, though...

Currently Playing
Anything, Anytime, Anywhere - Bruce Cockburn

4 comments:

Jason.Bartlett said...

I don't know Craig is JMS really the influence you want to go with? Yeah he was disciplined through out B5 but his work since has been crap. Isn't it possible even likely that he burned himself out with so much discipline?
I'd follow a writer like Rucka, or David, who while dedicated, do have spurts where they aren't writing.

Valerie Burton, ehh historical methods class, sapping the fun out of history.

vickyth said...

Val Burton could have sucked the creative energy and will out of any writer. Personally, i think she disparaged good, creative, interesting historical writing (and it does exist) in others because she was incapable of it herself.

I was lucky. I had David Bell and Hans Rollmann (sr.). They appreciated well-crafted prose.

towniebastard said...

I remember liking Valerie when I first had her. She was tough, but fair and had just the right amount of sarcasm and arrogance (which I enjoyed in people at that time).

But as I was working towards my honours degree she became less helpful and more critical. I don't mind criticism, but some of it just seemed mean. The breaking point was when I was doing a 100% oral final in one of my honours class. It should have been a one hour exam, three profs questioning me for 20 minutes. It lasted 90 minutes. I got 75 in course when I should have gotten an A because Val let the questioning go on and on, without stepping in. I was fried after an hour. The last 20 minutes were a disaster.

I was furious with her and let her know it. And that pretty much marked the formal end of my History degree.

If Dups pops by, I'm sure he has his share of horror (including one hysterical) stories about Val.

Oh, and Jason, yeah JMS is not doing his best work now. There are better writers to emulate, but they might just be more gifted; where they don't have to work at it, can sit in front of a computer and churn out genuis every few days.

I rather doubt that's ever going to be me. I need some discipline to get it done. Once I get good enough, then maybe I can take it a bit easier. Right now, I'm not there.

Jason.Bartlett said...

I can see your point Craig about discipline. As a teacher for a writing class, I try to get my students writing as much as possible when I'm not serving up grammer.
Frank McCourt is a fascinating example of a writer taking his time and coming up with genuis.

First book published when he was 66 then 2 books published right after. Again proably not what you looking for but still look at JMS and Bendis and telling me that a few days(months off) wouldn't make their craft better. Just my thoughts.