Bad Advice Wednesday: A Lot at a Time

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Okay, this one is the opposite of last week’s Bad Advice, “A Little at a Time,” in which I suggested celebrating incremental writing, since that’s mostly what we get time for.  “We” being we humans…  But let’s say you’ve got a novel started, or other book (or really any project humans get involved in, though hold off on the mass killings, please)… At some point, it’s going to be time to blast out a rough draft.  So accrete as you will, but when you’re well in, I suggest a draft vacation.

It’s no vacation, that’s for sure.  But what you do is steal two weeks or one or whatever you can from your life and family, go stay in that pal’s cabin or in the worst motel ever (no TV, for example, and people moaning nonsexually in the next room), and finish a draft of your book.  This can be rough beyond rough–the idea is to get a draft out there to work on when the blocks of time are small.  It’s not a draft to show anyone, but a true rough draft.  Later for first drafts and show drafts–this is the pile of lumber from which you’re going to build your castle.

So.  You know your character is going to marry Mary and kill his father and go on the run and thereby lose Mary but meet Eleanor, who will later befriend Mary and bring together a rapprochement between your protagonist and his beloved wife, leaving Eleanor, um, where?

You can answer that question in your motel room two weeks from now.  But answer it you must, even if it’s to be changed later.  You wake, you fight off depression, you work till lunch, you eat take out, you nap, you drink coffee, you write until an unusually late dinner, maybe dinner out for a brain break, then home to the Blueberry Motel and write some more unto sleep.  But stay up till all hours–nothing normal.  Sleep till you wake, and start again. Write and write and write some more.  Leave your phone in your car till dinner time.  Then leave it there again.  Masturbate frequently, but only when your work inspires it (and not till you’re sore!).

Phone calls at dinner.  I already said that.  But don’t talk about the work.  And don’t talk to people who occupy too much brain space after.  You’ve already apologized to them before you left, no worries.  If they don’t understand, dump them forever.

And work.  And work.

If you finish early, good.  Go back to the beginning and fix all the messes you’ve inevitably left.  Because one of the features of desperate drafting is sentences like this:  “Here, Eleanor refuses to accompany him to Detroit because she knows his parents are destructive.  And so he thinks twice.  Dramatize.”

You should leave a day or two at the end to go to like the St. Regis in New York and not write but luxuriate in having done so: massages, fine meals, all the things that monks don’t do.

And then go home and back to the incremental art life.


Bill Roorbach gives advice he himself could never follow, and yet he means it, and hopes you listen.  He lives in Maine among trees and chickens.

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