Every morning I get up and I type out two pages of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It used to be Marcel Proust’s In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, but every time I start a new version of my book I get a new book to type out. As soon as I am done typing up my two pages, I start to write. I have to write, as a minimum, the same number of words as I have typed of Faulkner. If I write more then great, but I’m never allowed to write less. I try very hard (and am 95% successful) to not check my email, Twitter, or Facebook until I’ve done it. Proust was great because I was writing about 900 words minimum a day, Faulkner is only around 600, although this is probably because the Benjy section is very dialogue heavy.
I spoke to D’s boss about this method of writing, and he was pretty fascinated by it, so I thought it might be worth putting down my reasons for it.
Obviously my book has a structure, but I want the act of writing itself to have a structure, and, for me, a specific number of words works. There is nothing more terrifying that sitting down in front of my computer to just write. All I can see is an endless stretch of white hopelessness. A blank page on a computer screen. It’s not even like writing on a notepad where there is a finite stack of paper. A word document goes on and on and on and on.
I type up Faulkner and I can say to myself “Okay, you’re writing 672 words today, keep going if you want, but really, 672 words is all that you have to do.” This gives me an easily achievable target, and also provides me with a definitive end point. So on the days where I’m feeling crappy or uninspired or pissed off, I can stop if I want. But usually while I’m writing I get inspired and I keep on going until I run out. It’s this type of structure that I need, a jump-start every morning, or I just stare at my computer, feeling sad and overwhelmed and hating writing.
Before anything else, I type up Faulkner, I do my writing. I make a cup of coffee, go down to my desk and start writing. It must be done before my brain starts to fill up with all of the things that happen during the day. I am of the YouTube generation, I have no attention span. I skip from thing to thing, a million different thoughts, wondering who’s said what on Twitter, what the comments are on my latest blog post, who has sent me an email.
Typing up another writer is an act of meditation. When I’m doing it (it only takes about 10 – 15 minutes), I am allowed to think of two things:
- what I am writing (i.e. currently The Sound and the Fury)
- my book
That’s it. And if I think about anything else I mentally bitch-slap myself into focusing. This process means that I am 100% focused on what I’m doing when I actually start my own writing. I can usually manage a few hours of decent, focused work before I start to feel the Gmail-twitch.
One of the things everyone tells you when you start to write is that you must do it every day. Unfortunately this is true. I hate writing, and wish I could just spend my days hanging out at Nandos or watching back-to-back episodes of America’s Next Top Model and The Bachelor.
However, wanting to achieve something as a writer means that I must do it every day. Just this exercise of typing up Faulkner and then writing the same number of words of my own book, means that every day I produce at least 600 words. This may not seem like very much, but over a six month period that is around 100,000 words, and that is a whole book. Yes, a shit book that ends up in the dump folder, but writing 100,000 words over 6 months can only make you a better writer.
Being Told What to Do
I need to be told what to do, I need rules and I need boundaries. Since I’m an adult now, this is usually just a matter of me setting up a fictive big Other and projecting a disapproving eye on to it. This was why I did an MA, and now I have an agent he can be the big O without even knowing about it.
But on a day-to-day basis I have William Faulkner to tell me what to do. Not that he says anything (being long dead and all that). I feel like, in typing up his book, I have made a commitment to my own book. The book sits on a book chair, on my desk, accusing me, disapproving, if I haven’t typed it up that morning, reminding me of my failings with regards to my own book.
You know that feeling that you get when you are reading a tough book that you really want to finish and you get about half way through it and you’re pretty proud of yourself. You can feel the weight and texture of what you’ve already achieved. You get that. Only when you reach the half way point you can look at the book that you’ve been typing up and think “my book is also that length (or longer! hehe).”
In many ways, typing up someone else’s book helps you to see your own as a finite object. Something that you will be able to pick up and read. You can feel the number of pages and think “Yes, that is also the thickness of my book.” You can see your book as a book, rather than just as a story in your head.
So that’s what I do, every morning. If I don’t get back to your email until after 12pm GMT that’s why. I’m hoping that by the time I’ve finished writing Faulkner I’ll have finished writing my book. And then I’ll have to worry about what I’m going to type up next.