Again we hit November and it’s writing month. Whether you are a [aspiring] novelist (#NaNoWriMo) or academic writer (#AcWriMo) there are social media activities which we can engage with to keep us on track and committed to writing. The idea is to develop good habits and keeping our writing focused. These good habits usually relate to having a writing routine where we commit to writing regularly [most] every day. There are various goals to reach in pages, word counts and time. I’m going to argue later in this blog that these “tips” need to be problematised, but bear with me while I tell my story.
Recently, I read a book by John Birmingham called How to Be a Writer. It’s not a book about how to write, but rather in insight into the industry of writing and how to navigate it. It also has some great tips about the physical aspects of writing like exercise and desk set up. The title suggests he promises an ability to live in a solid gold hovercraft if you follow his tips, but Birmingham’s caveat is that the reader needs to be dead set serious about writing. I find it an excellent motivator. Birmingham writes in his typical derisive style and makes the reader feel like they are a real writer and others are amateurs. The text invites us into the in-crowd of famous writers. It is very seductive. The voice actually prompted me to walk past the How to Write book Stephen King has released. I usually can’t resist these types of volumes.
Birmingham also ascribes to the “write every day” crowd. He says serious writers need to be selfish and set aside time for their projects. That simply setting a time limit with a few hundred words is for the amateurs. REAL writers hit around 500words per 30 minutes, so in 4 hours writing per day (which is how long these real writers work for) we’re talking 4000 words. I actually get this approach. It’s about prioritising what you want to do before what every one else demands of you, whether work or family. Not enough of us do this. Jo Van Every suggests blocking out time in our calendars to *meet with our writing*. I think this is a good practice, and when I am working on campus it is what I do. I never make meetings in the morning because the morning is when I write best.
What I want to pick up on in this blog is the phrase I used above “when I’m on campus”. You see, I’m a casual academic. The rest of the time I am looking after two (often three) girls and I also have limited choice in the times I teach. I am beholden to the timetable. I cannot commit to being a serious writer in Birmingham’s terms. Does that mean I’m not?
Joanne Harris recently wrote a Twitter essay about the problem with “tips” in writing. Tips set up an expectation that everyone is capable of engaging with them, that they are the only way. “Tips” use performative language to suggest that they work; if you follow them your writing will transform. What I want to problematise about this tips oriented approach to writing is that it is 100% dependent on stability of time. What that means is that the system of writing that is being set up through “tips” is not considering the needs of flexibility of some people who are dead set serious about writing (and this is where this blog becomes a mummy blog).
I am serious about writing. Why else would I write an 80,000+ word thesis? What’s the point in writing academic papers? I do this writing in the small amounts of time I have available to me when and where I can. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks (or months). Many women I have engaged with both on and offline speak about how they also fit writing in around their family and work duties (see Deb Netolicky on writing and birthday cakes).
I’m not saying that being a serious writer does not require commitment. It does. But is the physical act of writing all that goes into writing? While I’m pushing my daughter on a swing I am turning ideas over in my head. When I am watching TV or chatting with friends, I am thinking about how what we are saying fits with what I want to write about. When I get a chance to write, I get all those ideas down.
My message in this blog is not to bash the writing “tips” system which flies around social media in November but rather to encourage those women out there who are serious writers.
Do NOT be mummy guilted by the writing tip system. You are a serious writer.