People who earn their bread and butter as writers stress the importance of having a disciplined routine. Treat it like any other job, they advise. I can easily spot the wisdom in this, just as I recognize the need to exercise daily. I would describe my own approach to writing as being more spontaneous—a nice way to put it—and having two distinct modes: creative and editing.
It would be nice if creativity, for me, had a convenient open and close valve, like a kitchen faucet. Unfortunately, I relate to Jerry Seinfeld’s analogy about writing, that it’s more akin to standing beside the faucet and waiting for the drip. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that half of my rough draft was written on restaurant napkins. Perhaps being away from the temptations and distractions of home had a way of freeing the imagination. My home office is not exactly feng shui.
There are, however, times when creativity requires the proverbial kick in the drawers. I’m talking about writer’s block, those lingering periods of creative Sahara. Some writers simply walk away from the problem. Read a few books. Commune with nature. If this resolves the problem for you, that’s great. For me, writer’s block is too much of an unresolved issue, so I need to work through it. But this approach is not without its problems. Usually the harder I work on a passage, the more overwritten it ends up feeling. This is when the editing mode comes into play.
There is a different type of clarity at work when editing. This is when I spot, hopefully, the missing comma or awkward phrase. Also, it’s a time when I can distance myself from my own work as much as possible. The true test is when I go back to chapters written months before. If it still reads well, it more than likely stays. If I find myself asking who wrote this pooh, then it’s back to work.
This undisciplined approach worked for me for my first novel because, frankly, I need a lot of time to grow as a writer. But now that I’m seriously thinking about my next book, I should clean my desk.
James Dante author of The Tiger's Wedding