I often write stories in less than twenty-four hours, from conception to publication. The vast majority of that time is spent in turning the story over in my head, contemplating the twists until something gels, choosing the narrator and finally laying out the structure in a workable, entertaining way. The actual writing will take me an hour or two, mostly in long bursts of prose, with a few walks around the house when some plot point requires further consideration.
I have often taken longer both to consider and to draft the tale, but quality doesn’t arise from polish and the more time spent on a draft, the less honest the voice of the narrator becomes. Words are spoken casually in the greatest part of life. Crafted words are the rare exception, for the pulpit or the stump, uncommon in the processes that are living.
My greatest impetus forward is recognizing that finishing one story provides the sudden release of freedom that permits me to start my next one. The next one always begins to gather appeal as the story gets worn down within my thoughts by retelling. A fresh situation is more fun to consider. So I am driven to make choices and select words. I often write because I want to get it over and done with.
Even in a crafted piece, like a novel whose scope stretches well beyond what can be written in a few hours, the bulk of the work is going to be composed in one-two hour blocks of pressing through a scene. Breaking a novel into a series of related short-stories allows me to take each chapter as a fresh start. With a novel, in the cracks between scenes, I do the editing that stitches the scenes together.
The key to writing is to write. But writing and finishing a piece is the ideal way to practice the craft. Simply putting words on a page, one after another, practices poetics. To practice writing stories, stories must be written. Giving a story time to bog down is not practice. Push forward and tell a tale. Maybe it won’t be good. No matter. Sit down and tell another one. Eventually, skills will develop and the practice will make things easier. This is the key to writing.
Develop a writing tempo. By repetition, create a pace that soon feels wrong to abandon. I must write today because that is what I do. I must find another story because that is what I do. I must think it through so I can sit down and get it done. The more my ordinary day involves writing, the more I am driven to write. I can’t stop because I’ve forgotten how.
Get up every morning and write three paragraphs. It’s like planting a seed. For a while, it seems like a useless sprout. As the years go rolling by, it becomes a forest. Tempo is what makes us move.