time to write

Working on Leverage inspired and stirred up all those weird things in my brain that make me an artist. In an effort to maintain the creative momentum I experienced while working on the show, I went directly from wrapping my episode to working on this series of short stories I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but for one reason or another never developed past the beat sheet.

I have a routine that goes something like this: I get up between 8 and 9, grab some coffee, and read some news. About 40 minutes later, I eat breakfast, and then I start writing for anywhere between 4 and 5 hours, usually until hunger drives me away from my desk.

The thing is, it’s not non-stop writing for all that time. There’s a lot of thinking, a lot of wandering around (mentally and physically) and more than a little bit of goofing off online while I try to stay out of my brain’s way long enough for it to cough up the ideas. It’s easy to feel like I’m not really working, and I’m sure it would appear that way to the average observer.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, writer J. Robert Lennon wrote an amusing and very truthful column about exactly what it is we do when we’re writing.

Ask a writer what she values most in her creative life, and she is likely to respond, “Time to write.” Not many of us have the luxury of writing full- time; we have spouses, families, day jobs. To the people closest to the writer, “writing time” may seem like so much self-indulgence: Why should we get to sit around thinking all day? Normal people don’t require hour after continuous hour of solitude and silence. Normal people can be flexible.

And yet, we writers tell our friends and children, there is nothing more sacrosanct, more vital to our intellectual and emotional well-being, than writing time. But we writers have a secret.

We don’t spend much time writing.

There. It’s out. Writers, by and large, do not do a great deal of writing. We may devote a large number of hours per day to writing, yes, but very little of that time is spent typing the words of a poem, essay or story into a computer or scribbling them onto a piece of paper.

Maybe it’s a little too “inside baseball,” to be as funny to normal people as it is to me, but I totally relate to everything he says. In fact, I need extra time to write, so I’m taking June and July off from my columns to write fiction, and get Memories of the Future and the Subterranean Press edition of Happiest Days out the door (Happiest has been held up by me; I had a technology problem that seriously cockblocked me on my edit, and then I couldn’t find some important stuff to go in the book, but finally found it about two weeks ago. Those of you who pre-ordered and are tired of waiting shouldn’t direct your hate-lasers at Subterranean, and should instead focus them on me.)

Lennon eventually says:

The truth, of course, is that writers are always working. When you ask a writer a direct question, and he smiles and nods and then says “Well!” and turns and walks away without saying goodbye, he is actually working.

If a writer is giving you a ride to the bus station and pulls up in front of the supermarket and turns to you and says, “Enjoy your trip!,” she is actually working.

I have to apologize to Anne all the time, because while we may be in the same location, physically, my mind is frequently off in some other place, its hands filled with soft mental clay that it hopes to shape into something recognizable. There’s a line in Stand By Me where Gordie’s son tells his friend that his dad gets weird when he’s writing. I’ve heard my own kids say that, and if I can confess something real quick … it always makes me happy to hear that.

While I worked on Leverage, I had a beer with John Rogers almost every night after wrap. We talked about all kinds of stuff, from D&D to comics to our wives to working in the entertainment industry. At least once a night, John would point out how lucky we are to have jobs where we get paid to make stuff up and entertain people. I couldn’t agree with him more.

84 thoughts on “time to write”

  1. My mother’s a writer, and she’s been fortunate in that she could self-support her employment through it; which meant she could work from home, in the methods best able for her to put words to paper.
    I’ve always been a very intermittent writer: thousands of stories, the hum of so many characters, but I lack the passion, drive, and discipline my mother has to make it my life. Writing is something I enjoy doing, something I use to escape from the other things in my life. But I have always admired her ability to foster it throughout her life as a career. Writing is challenging work.

  2. Hi Wil! So glad that I’m not the only that feels that way when I’m writing. But every novel, I’m discovering, is a different beast. My debut novel, which my agent just sold in Germany, clipped out at an easy pace. My second one poured out in a month. And now, my third one feels like I’m trying to write it in ancient Sanskrit. Maybe something is wrong? Who knows? But at least it’s coming out, if not surely, then slowly. And doing the Vulcan mind thingy with my narrator is always a blast! Enjoy your writing!

  3. There I am, just sitting there writing when some one looks it at me and says “Oh. Your just writing”. They then proceed to interrupt me…and i let them.
    Unless your job is probably “writer” eveyone else does think your doing something less than important!
    And i have been doing it to myself. About time i changed that i think. Gonna have to turn bitch mode on (’cause no on ever interrupts when i am coding….)
    Thank you wil and comments for helping me with my block.

  4. Do you find that the whole write-a-page-a-day stuff works for you? I’ve found that I can’t *force* writing, because so much of it has to figure itself out inside my brain somewhere and I have to give it time. Whenever I try to force a book (or even a blog post, for that matter) before it’s done cooking it always ends up super lame and I have to rewrite it anyway. (Why I wrote my first book THREE TIMES from front to back … sigh … I was forcing it.)
    ~ ElizabethPW

  5. I give myself a time to write every day. During that time, I may get up to a few thousand words, and I may only get a few hundred. The important thing is, I’m doing it consistently.

  6. I’ve done some writing over the years, and spent ten years married to another writer, involved with other writers, or whatnot. I’ve met hundreds of other writers and talked at length with them about writing.
    I’ve concluded that not one single writer alive enjoys writing. Yes, they enjoy having written. They even enjoy thinking about writing, planning writing, or talking at length about writing.
    But writing itself? The act? Nobody can stand it for more than short periods.
    Oh, I’ll grant that there are probably a few writers out there who genuinely enjoy it. I suspect they self-mutilate, too. And they paint their ships red and run without core containment.

  7. Hehehe.
    Just today I wrote this note in my notebook: “Remember to be grateful for the deadlines, because they mean you’re getting paid to write.”
    I love writing. I love everything about it, even the stuff I don’t love.

  8. Your insight had me nodding, smiling, laughing and at times, a lady snort. I have not written in nearly five years. My family needed me. But for nearly two years I was in Yahoo writers groups. Literally soaking up the atmosphere, questions, and challenges. I had what’s called “the time of my life.” Then Life came knocking and I couldn’t ignore it.
    Being around you, and others on Twitter, helped me open up Y-IM and contact those I “rubbed elbows” with. No one famous, unless you count the fantasies in our own minds at that time. To my shock, I was remembered, asked what I was doing. Life was my answer, theirs “Still?” Then the usually writer’s stuff everyone’s written in your replies. Some are self published (at the time that was very hard to do) nor did many genre’s of stories exist. Today, I see them in the weirdest places and I do that “what if” game.
    Truthfully, Life needed to come first but now that it’s calmed somewhat, *ducks out of Life’s sight* I am hearing my Muse calling. Time will tell if I have the guts to follow through this time. *smile*
    Thank you Wil for this entry that makes me remember something I thought I had long forgotten. Today’s news shocked me back to my childhood/teenager/college days. I realized I was secretly yearning for an outlet to remember and perhaps vent. I am able to “live” talk with some inspiring people, and better yet, read from those I admire. I am truly, truly blessed, especially today.
    Take care Wil. I am delighted that you allow your fans to interplay with you. I will try to patiently wait for your next round of published writing and any random entries in your columns or blog during your months of writing.

  9. The idea that not all work will visible to an observer, and that one can be working even while appearing to be doing very little is hardly confined just to writers. I think any job that requires intellectual ability will display this phenomena to a greater or lesser extent.
    For example, I’m a graduate student in engineering, and looking back over the work for my thesis, most of the really important stuff seems have been done in a very small amount of time. Naively looking at this history it seems like, I’m just being lazy except for a few days where I got off my butt and did some work. That I could have finished my project in just a few months if I could have managed to be productive all the time. But it could never work like that. These short bursts of productivity are the result of turning over a problem in my mind for days, weeks or even months. The problem’s always there, in the back of my mind. until one day, by some mysterious process, I have the answer and everything moves forward quickly.
    Working as an engineer(as opposed to doing engineering research), which I’ve done a bit of as well, is very similar, except there’s more easy problems that you know the answer to very quickly, and less big ones.

  10. Wil, in a rather horrific echo of Wesley himself, you have just come out of some random blog on the internet and quite possibly saved my life, my sanity, and most pressingly the chances of me making the rent for the next few months.
    I can’t explain how, you’ll just have to take my word on it.
    And the link from sojournerblog to Pressfield’s book is just the icing on the cake.
    Thank you! is what I mean really.

  11. Okay I didnt know where to put this so I thought I’d put it right here. I was readin on Twitter that you said Toy Soldiers is on Encore. Must I say… that is the most kick ass movie ever. My 2nd all-time favorite movie. It was one of the first ones I found when I started collecting your movies. And you totally rocked that earing Wil. Whenever I saw the earing I freaked out because it was so awesome. Do you still have the hole? Gosh I hate putting this on here in front of everyone but you were so good looking in that movie. AND I read in a magazine that you had had a girlfriend at that time and you were in love for the first time. It was so sweet! Okay sorry I just wanted to say that because I had always wondered if you ever flipped through channels and saw your movies on tv. I bet its such a cool feeling! Do you and Anne ever watch them? By the way…RIP MICHAEL JACKSON. He inspired me so much and will forever be one of my favorite performers and the King Of Pop. He’s a legend.

  12. Wil,
    As a writer myself, I couldn’t agree more with your reference to the line in Stand By Me. I’ve always felt that scene says more about writing and how a writer feels about his craft than any writer could probably ever put into words to make a non-writer understand being “in the zone.” I have often made reference to that scene when trying to explain to friends and family what writing means to me. I’ll just say to them, “Watch the last scene in Stand By Me, if you want to understand where I’m coming from.” So, it was great to see another writer make the same reference.
    It was also great to read about your writing habits when at the computer. When I was reading those lines, I felt like I was reading about myself. I’ve done the exact same thing many times during my allotted writing time. But, as expressed in this blog, there are many aspects to being a writer aside from the writing of the words alone. And those who are not writers will probably never fully understand what that means.
    I particularly liked your reminiscence about having to apologize to your wife about “not being in the same place” at times when you’re together. I was nodding to myself in agreement and grinning a little. I’ve been there many times, as I’m sure many writers have. And what a great feeling it is when we are!

  13. Oh my Lord! When I signed up with Twitter a few weeks ago and I saw Wil Wheaton as someone to follow I thought ‘yeah, sure, he’s the kid with the unitard and goofy entirely too perfect looking hair…I wonder what he’s up to?’ So I twittified him (or you…if you’re actually perusing this comment…I’m an optimist so I’ll assume that you are)
    I read a couple of the Twits from you & the handful of others I decided to follow (people and groups I thought my friends…even those who don’t Twitter wouldn’t roll their eyes at and go ‘Dear God woman you’ve gone batty’ if they knew I was keeping up with them) and to my surprise found myself reading yours (without a clue as to what in the hell they were really about) and giggling…so I decided I ought to check out your website.
    So I did. Again, I was very pleasantly surprised. Who would have thought that the gawky kid (no offense) who played dear super genius Wesley Crusher would end up such a well spoken man? Your style of writing is humorous and makes the reader actually think and in a world where thinking tends to take a backseat to impulsive stupidity…that’s a great thing.
    This is the part where I ought to say ‘Oh, and I’m a writer, too.’ Then give you my site address…but I’m neither that gauche nor that desperately in need of validation.
    Because, truth be told, this note is simply to let you know that you’ve made me giggle more than once (I think it was something like 17 times…I lost track when I read how you could keep tweaking one of your books ‘until they turn of the lights on planet Earth’…because it sounded WAY too much like the way I deal with my work and I had a weird sort of chill run down my spine)
    And with that, I shall bid you a hearty farewell and wish that you have a great day. Happy writing and keep tweaking ’til you can tweak no more because last I heard you’ve got a good 30 million years or so before that giant lightbulb in the sky goes out.
    Most cordially,
    L Avery Brown

  14. Wait… you had a technical problem… and you didn’t ask for help here? Seriously?! If you’d rolled anything better than a 2 on your Community Summoning Ability check you’d have gotten some kind of useful answer. And with a 5 you’d have even had a *correct* answer!
    BTW, I agree with digitalscream that “technical art” such as programming often works similarly to writing.

  15. OMG! That is funny as hell! I thought LeVar & Brent’s were bad, this one takes the frigging cake!! Literally LMAO on this one. Thanks for sharing!

  16. You do have time Meddygon. 24 Hours of it. How you use that time is up to you. There’s no-one forcing you to do the daily grind. To me there has to be balance between five things: your work, your friends, your partner, your family and (most oft forgot) yourself. Time by yourself helps that beautiful dialogue within – it helps you think. And I recommend to all that at least once a month you should sit by yourself in the country as far away from normal activities as possible for at least two hours.
    Thankyou very much for your post.
    Kindest regards,
    Tim.

  17. Spending my work time integrating systems from many sources, I know that Software Engineering can be a VERY individual, artistic pastime.
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  18. That’s great! Love the last bit. It always amazes me how our brains can, in the cool dead of sub-concious thinking, make the unlikely connections that give us a breakthrough in problems we’re working on.
    Great post,
    Tim.

  19. Take yourself out into the country. Do something a little risky. Sit for an hour or two,alone. One of those things should get your passion back :-)
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  20. I wholeheartedly agree, dB. If any community is going to be able to help with a technical question, Wil’s is the one. Creativity,Art,Thinking…it’s all just the same thing really. And time spent doing that takes us away from worrying about what other people are thinking about us… thus we wear woolly clothing to keep warm.:-)
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  21. Hey Rain, can this just be a ‘web-lified’ version of what happens internally when we all make that connection that delivers inspiration. Have we just witnessed world-wide-wisdom ?
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  22. Everyone has to ‘give it time’ no matter what they’re doing because that’s the only way to properly think. If you don’t whatever you do ‘will come out lame’ -You’re spot on ElizabethPW.
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  23. Give it time, time that Wil’s talked about, think about it and maybe – just maybe – you can come up with the solution that gives you a career. it’s within you little drummer boy.
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  24. I think you dug out the cause right away:- routine. Get out , do something out of the ordinary, something scary, then sit and think. That should do it. It is changes in our environment and the senses and feelings in our bodies, together with the challenge of a mental problem that keep us fit and healthy. Nice avatar.
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  25. That first paragraph says it all. If only we could figure out ‘that mysterious process’ – the integration of complexity – that then produces the occasional inspirational thought…then again, if it was regular, it wouldn’t be as appreciated.
    Can I steal that paragraph ?
    Kindest Regards,
    Tim.

  26. Ah yes. Something I have neglected in quite awhile which is stupid since I live surrounded by it and live for nature. That and grabbing a blanket and just laying under the stars for hours, gazing

  27. Spot on, Jules , Spot on. I have 70 acres of natural forrest to to lie back in, far away from the city. The stars are so much brighter there, and nature is so vast and endless, it puts you in your place.

  28. Come Monday I have the first week to myself in over 2 years. I will be spending a lot of time (I hope) reconnecting and star gazing.

  29. Don’t hope, Do. -spend the time, that is. We all too often busy ourselves with activity and miss the opportunity to think deeply. I ensure I have a three week break each year in Spring when it’s the best time. A book called ‘Breath’, by Tim Winton an Australian author, I have just read and it captures this better than I can,. Have a good week.

  30. I think creativity works kind of like a computer virus. Always running in the background, eating up our resources whether we like it or not at the moment, distracting us. But I can’t imagine living without it.

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