I was curious about Neil Gaiman’s writing habits, and Google found a brief interview by Time Out magazine called Neil Gaiman: How I Write. It’s an old interview (2006), but I’m sharing it here because I hadn’t seen it before. Also, I find solace in the self-reported struggles of other writers.
The biggest way my writing habits have changed over the years is I’m no longer nocturnal. In the old days, I would tend to write when everything else that could be done had been done. I’d start around 8pm and work industriously until around 5am. Then, somewhere in the early ’90s, I gave up smoking and that made a difference. Without cigarettes, if I tried doing that I just fell asleep at the keyboard with nothing to show for my efforts but 500 pages of the letter ‘M’. At that stage, I became more diurnal. I think it was having kids; getting older, too.
But now that I am older, I get to indulge myself in ways of making the world quieter which weren’t available to me when I was a young writer. I can rent a little cabin where there’s no cellphone signal or internet and nothing to do except stare at a nearby lake… or write. When I’m pushed, I will borrow houses from friends, occasionally vanish off to a cheap hotel room for a week or two to get my head down and move into that peculiar universe where you know you have stuff to finish and you do nothing but write. You go to sleep with the story bubbling in your head and when you wake up you reach for a notebook.
For screenplays, I work directly on screen – novels I write in longhand. For novels, I like the whole first and second draft feeling, and the act of making paper dirty, whereas, for screenplays, I value the immediacy of a computer. I’ve often thought, when I’m writing a screenplay where I’m six drafts down the line with loads of notes and inputs, that it’s interesting to read the first draft again. Often you realise it was more alive, so you go back and take stuff out of it.
I try to change my superstitions with each project. Working in fountain pen is good because it slows me down just enough to keep my handwriting legible. Often I use two pens with different coloured ink, so I can tell visually how much I did each day. A good day is defined by anything more than 1,500 words of comfortable, easy writing that I figure I’m probably going to use most of in the end. Occasionally, you have those magical days when you look up and you’ve done 4,000 words, but they’re more than balanced out by those evil days where you manage 150 words you know you’ll be throwing away.
I’ve resumed writing on my first Nanowrimo novel, Zevo and the Humans. I had gotten stuck at chapter 3, and now that chapter is shaping up nicely. My weapon against the procrastinator within is Don’t Break The Chain, supposedly based on Jerry Seinfeld’s method of productivity (challenging yourself to keep as long an unbroken chain of working days as possible).
I mentioned before that I felt inspired by Jay Lake, and I wanted to talk about that a little more. One thing that inspires is his prodigious output (over 240 short stories and 7 novels since 2001). Another is his commitment to keep on writing even during his fight with cancer (hang in there Jay). But what really impresses me is his dedication to having a boring life.
That’s not a jab at Jay…that’s how he summed up how he finds time to produce so much work. He mentioned this in an interview Mur Lafferty conducted with him on episode 131 of Mur’s excellent “I Should Be Writing” podcast. Jay said he doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t play games, and that’s how he finds time to write.
Finding time to write has long been my problem, or at least that’s how I phrased it before. But truthfully, the issue is how I prioritize my writing. The last few years, I’ve let recreation–primarily video games, PC games, roleplaying games–take priority over writing. And whether it’s guilt over letting my writing slide, or a mid-life crisis making me feel like I’m wasting my life playing, or whatever you want to call it, I haven’t been enjoying games much lately.
Jay said that everyone consumes, but only some of us produce. I’m feeling the need to be productive again. The last time I was in writing-mode, a friend was baffled by the fact that I would work a full-time job and then come home and do more work (on a writing project). I think I’m eager to baffle him some more.