A little bit at a time

A dear friend asked me today how I managed to write so fast. When I recovered from the shock of the implication that I might–actually–write [cough, wheeze] fast, I tried to put her question in context. {Stop laughing, damnit!} She claims only to be able to write when the spirit moves her. Early Times logoMy spirit of choice, as most readers of this blog know, is bourbon (and sweet vermouth). But I’m pretty sure that’s not what she had in mind.

I  believe she meant whatever remains of the old Greek muse. But honestly, I didn’t have the heart to tell her the muse is an utterly fickle bitch. You can’t depend on her for anything. Seriously, if you wait for that witch to tap you on the shoulder and inspire something, you’re in for a really, really long wait. This is because–lean close, ’cause I’d rather not have to repeat this–the muse doesn’t give a damn. Not even a teeny-weeny one. Nope.

I know; I know. That sounds awfully harsh, and there are no doubt legions of writers, and sorta/kinda/wannabe writers, who’ll swear that the muse visits them on a more-or-less regular basis. She probably feeds them bonbons and rubs their aching feet, too. But I’m guessing she never actually reads anything. She never offer words of wisdom like, “Darlin’, I know you think this passage is spiffy. And this bit, especially, where you describe the sunrise and then go into detail about how you couldn’t really think of anything relevant so you branched off into the land of free association, and by the end of the day you had several lines of top shelf poetry which, while not exactly easy to understand would surely strike someone as uber cool, assuming they’d been drinking heavily or taking lots of drugs with ‘don’t drive’ warning labels.”

K20.10BMousaAnd, because I’m a consummate [cough] researcher/writer type, I dug up a picture of the muse for those who aren’t precisely sure what the ol’ biddy looks like. Here she is, stuffing a clarinet up her nose. And why the hell not? It’s way–way–better than having her stick it up YOUR nose.


I say this in all sincerity, writing is a solitary act. It requires some self-discipline. Not a whole lot, just enough to convince yourself that you need to sit down, relax, and write a little bit. Every day. Just a little. Really. That’s all. A few sentences.

Now, I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same results, but usually, once I’ve got a couple sentences down, I’m thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad. I can prob’ly write a couple more.” And pretty soon, I’m getting close to finishing a whole scene, which is, for me anyway, a pretty neat accomplishment. I’ll sit back and give myself a psychic pat on the back and a couple hearty attaboys.

ATTABOY“Nice work,” I’ll say. “Mighty fine. Maybe the best scene you’ve ever done. Really! I mean that. I’m proud of ya.”

And then, depending on the time of day, I’ll either get another cup of coffee, or I’ll treat myself to a Manhattan. Either way, I’ll have my reward in hand when I start reminiscing about how ridiculously easy it was to knock out that scene. Oh sure, it was only 4oo words or so, but the next one will be longer, and much more involved, loaded with action and angst and passion and other cool stuff. In fact, I’ll bet I can bang that sucker out before lunch (or dinner, or whatever).

And thus it goes. A sentence, and then another. Soon, a scene is done, and then another, and another, and eventually I’ve hit the profoundly arbitrary word count that tells me I’ve finished a chapter. (I aim for 4-4.5K. Your mileage may vary.)

And all without the help of the muse. Who needs her?


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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2 Responses to A little bit at a time

  1. Amanda Rillema says:

    Cool insight into your process!

  2. joshlangston says:

    I’ve heard a similar process can be employed when eating an elephant. I might have mentioned that, but I didn’t want to attract attention from PETA.

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