writing tools

Last week I gave a toastmaster’s speech on how to write a book. I laid out how to organize the information and how to work at it until it is done.

It was a great speech and it was well received. But I did not address strategies on how to get the actual writing done.

When people ask me how I have written a book, they often ask, “Do you have a time that you sit down and concentrate on writing? Do you get up first thing and write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?”

That’s the story, isn’t it? Getting to work, writing form 9-5 like it’s a job?

But that’s now how I work. Not usually. It’s way too much pressure to write for 8 hours a day. And also, the ideas don’t come like that for me.

I have heard of authors that do something like that. I figured I was the strange one. Aren’t I always the odd duck?

Because I find the most inspiring times to write are in the margins of my day job. Having a set of rather dull tasks to do all day leaves a portion of my brain ready to compose a story.

I just picked up Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He spends a whole bunch of time at the start talking about his job.

His government job that he got after spending a bunch of his life hanging out with all the Transcendentalists. He illustrates beautifully how this work is extremely unchallenging, and it takes almost no thought to get it done. He was ready for mindless creature comforts after his time with Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott.

The conceit of the book is that the “finds” the story of Hester Prynne in the storage room of his job at the custom house. But he wrote it. Of course he wrote it.

And he wrote it while he was utterly secure in his life. He had lunch and dinner every day. He had a regular routine and he could have sunk into a life of napping. His coworkers certainly did.

But whatever it was that caused him to seek out Emerson in the first place kept him awake in the warm afternoons at his customs house.

His mind was not quiet. And in the gaps of his routine, out squeezed his creative work.

That makes perfect sense to me. I am not very creative when I’m worried about how my bills will get paid.