The articles that compose this writing guide are all, happily, nicely written – but there's not much new here, I'm afraid, and not much applicable to my particular situation … Larry Block – as he tells the story a couple of times in this collection of essays – has basically always written. Motivation can be an issue for him, as it is for all writers, but for the most part the driving force that made him apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboard has been that he enjoys eating, and what puts food on his table is the money he makes by writing.
One article which raised my eyebrows a bit was one in which Block talks about how easy it is to excuse oneself from actually applying one's butt to one's chair and writing: "well, writers are actually working 24/7, every bit of sensory input has the possibility of adding to a scene sometime, there's editing needed, and research, and a good writer reads a great deal" – etc. What it comes down to, for Block, is that yes, he does agree with all of that – it's true, after all, even if it is easy to use the list as excuses – but what he feels is the real work is actually pushing the current project forward by so many pages. He doesn't set times, he says, but instead sets a daily goal that takes as long as it takes. His goal is, apparently, five pages a day, and this generally takes about three hours, and then he can feel free to, as he says, go enjoy the day.
No wonder so many people want to be writers when they grow up.
What he doesn't seem to be mentioning here is that it's probably taken him years to reach a level of discipline where he can, as mentioned, apply butt to chair and get to work rather than frittering away time and needing to achieve the correct mindset and such. Also, to where he can achieve five pages in three hours with some reliability; that's not always a given. In my experience sometimes twenty pages will come in that space of time; other times, one, and I count myself lucky.
The reasoning he gives for the five page/three hour goal is sound, but the reason my eyebrows went up was that it sounded so very much like something that could be misconstrued. He may not at the time of the writing of this book have been making millions, but he'd established himself and was making a modest living. And the little nugget he neglects here is that the less time you spend writing, the less you will write – and the less you write, the less money you can make through your writing.
I said before that a lot of this misses the mark for me. That's because I do not now write and never have written short stories. It's not how my mind works. Maybe it should be; I know in past decades it was almost unthinkable to try to make it with a novel right out of the gate. You were supposed to write short stories and submit them and get them rejected and send them out again over and over till someone took them. I almost wish I could do that. A beaten path is always easier to follow. This is the way Jo March did it; this is the way E. Byrd Starr did it. This is the way Lawrence Block did it. Me? Not so much. Short stories are very simply not in my repertoire. (I don't know if a novel is, either, but that's what's in the works. Sort of.)
Due to the nature of the book – a collection of articles from whatever magazine this was – there is a great deal of repetition. Sometimes two essays in a row say essentially the same thing. Block says in the introduction that he decided to arrange the book in a sort of chronological-by-process way, and did very little editing to the essays beyond changing "essay" to "chapter" and such … As a writer, I'm sure this was a tremendous idea. As a reader, it wasn't. Rather than a book to read straight through, it became a reference book, something to dip into here and there.