by Hugh Gilmore
The rain was coming down so hard I fought myself awake worrying that my house had slipped under the sea. It had not. It was just raining in that deluge-like way that makes you not want to get out of bed. I got up anyway and grabbed a coffee and went to my desk and worked on my book.
On another day the new dawn was shining, bright and inviting, and I wanted to fly up and join the birds and goof off in the treetops. But I went to my desk and worked on my book.
And one day I felt lousy and went to the doctor, but I worked on my book anyway. And then there was the time the sun was really shining and the outside world seemed so perfect I wanted to sit in my porch chair and watch it all happen. I’ll bet that was a beautiful day. I don’t know, though, because I went to my desk and worked on my book while the world did its thing.
I’ll bet I missed a lot. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there that day. Or the day before, or the day after. Not the week after that either. Or the month. Excuse me, I meant to say “months.”
What my friends tell me is that I am disciplined. “I admire your discipline.” “I envy your discipline.” “I despise you and your discipline” (said with a laugh, thank goodness). “I gotta hand it to you, you sure are disciplined.” I always deny it.
What I have is not discipline, but opportunity. I am alive. You can’t write when you’re dead.
Was that harsh, saying “dead”? I’m debating whether to take that nasty word out of this thought-excursion and say something more acceptable for a family newspaper. “After you’ve gone,” perhaps, or “passed away.” I’ll think about mellowing this idea while I move on.
Since I am alive, I have opportunity. I have a computer (but I wrote my first novel in copybooks, by hand). I have a vocabulary. I have an awareness (not a morbid one, but a commonsensical one) that I have probably inherited the human tendency toward mortality.
This is my advice to my fellow wannabe writers, those among you who “have a great idea for a story”: Write it. Don’t watch TV, or debate who should have won the Oscars or the Super Bowl, or Tweet, or go on Facebook, or lie back with the earphones on, or rub more tanning lotion on your arms, or take up cooking, and then say, “I wish I had more time.” You do. It’s just a matter of choice. Just do your writing first.
The best writing-motivation book I’ve ever read is Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel” (2007). His advice is friendly, understanding, and inescapable. Put simply: Pick a day to start. Then start. Decide how long you will sit at your desk. An hour? A half-hour? Four hours? Whatever. Go and sit there that long. Every day.
Nothing to say one day? Tap a key, over and over, till your time is up. Don’t want to do that? Just sit there and think. Or don’t think, just sit there. The most important thing to master is the habit of getting your butt sat, every day. After that, the rest will come. Afterward, you can go out and play. Or go to work. Or take in a movie. But, for goodness sake: don’t sit around looking out the window, hoping for inspiration or insight – or time. Just write. The rest will happen inside you while you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, putting your time in. Good luck.
In closing: since I have the privilege of being the writer of this column, I’ll mention that I’m having a book launch Friday night for my just-completed memoir, “My Three Suicides: A Success Story.” I’ll read selections, answer questions and sign copies of my book (which will be for sale there). We’ll be at the Chestnut Hill Hotel’s Bombay Room, 8229 Germantown Ave. here in Chestnut Hill, on Friday night, Feb. 27, from 7 to 8 p.m. Please say hello if you come by.
(Hugh Gilmore’s appearance is sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Book Festival, now in its sixth year of serving Philadelphia’s literary community.)