I was somewhat notorious in high school for flagrantly never taking my homework home. I’d do my homework, but only as much of it as I could finish during down time in school. In classes where I didn’t like the teacher I made a point of doing the homework while it was being collected, or not at all, and still get As in the class.
After school one day, somebody asked me, “How do you get away with it?” So I pointed out that in most classes, homework was such a small part of the grade that as long as you nailed everything else, you could get a zero and still walk away with a borderline A. Given how much of homework gave you credit just for completion, it was easy to buy wiggle room.
Then my theatre teacher, whom I liked quite a lot, took me to task. “You shouldn’t say that. You’re a special case. Other kids do need to do their homework and you’re giving them the wrong idea.” It was one of the more tactful, “You’re smart enough to count as a freak,” commentaries delivered to me growing up, so I pondered it. Once in a while, I still ponder it.
This blog post is actually about writers.
There’s roughly 85 billion tonnes of advice out there for new writers. There are slightly fewer people willing to opine about how to be a writer, what makes a writer, etc. etc. It’s so common to hear people talk about butt-in-chair and needing to write every day, to make time, to have a schedule that it has gone past cliche almost to the point of self-parody. Well kids, I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to do your homework.
I’ve written 100-200 thousand words a year, every year, since I was twelve. I did the “write a novel in a hurry,” thing so many times before there was a NaNoWriMo that yawned when I first heard about it. I do not outline. I usually don’t have anything like a plan. And I write whenever I damn well please and not a moment more. I can go weeks without writing a word of fiction and feel not one iota of guilt, have not the slightest identity crisis, and would giggle* at anybody who’d claim I’m not a “real” writer. Because seriously now, if somebody who turns out 1.5 novels a year isn’t a writer, nobody is.
Writing is utterly play for me. Fortunately for my writing career, when I play, I play hard and serious. But it’s still fundamentally play. Of the work I’ve had published, the first draft of Your Cities was written during a meeting at work as a series of news articles. The second draft was written in 45 minutes in my hammock. There was only one draft of On Moonlit Wings which I wrote in about twenty-five minutes. I spent more time on Canon, call it four hours plus lots of time angsting in crit sessions, but it’s the story I wrote a Viable Paradise, and to a prompt. It’s special. With the exception of Canon, everything I’ve had published or have in circulation I wrote because I was so distracted by the idea that I didn’t want to do anything else, and none of them took more than eight hours at the keyboard.
Sentient Domain‘s first draft was 81,000 words I wrote in five weeks, and I went and didn’t write anything for two months after. Rather than regret those two months, I actually wish I hadn’t let my, “You know, not writingn for this long is a bad sign for your mental health,” warnings guilt me into starting the next novel. Early can tell when I stopped working the Cleveland job – it’s when the book all of a sudden gets good.**
Granted, I did a lot of BIC writing in the early years – starting the summer I turned twelve I wrote five pages a day, every day, every summer until college. Everything I wrote then sucked, but it was going to suck anyway so practicing discipline was good for me. My current process wouldn’t work if I hadn’t learned to turn out 8k in a day without blinking. Some people will never learn to do that, and wouldn’t write at all if they didn’t have a set schedule or routine or quota. That’s okay. My point isn’t that they’re wrong, or even that the advice is bad. Just that it’s incomplete.
My high school theatre teacher was right; most kids need to do their homework. But I stand by young-me – if you can still get an A without, why bother, and why keep that a secret? Some of those kids might be better off spending that time on a hobby…
*This is a bigger threat than it seems. I’m told my giggle is variously maniacal or creepy.
**Insert a lot of cussing here. A whole lot. No, more than that.