Anthony De Sa’s first book, Barnacle Love, was critically acclaimed and became a finalist for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2009 Toronto Book Award. His most recent novel, Kicking the Sky, is set in 1977, the year a twelve-year-old shoeshine boy named Emanuel Jaques was brutally raped and murdered in Toronto. Anthony lives in Toronto with his wife and three boys, and drops by the blog this week with a guest post!
Time to Write
I don’t write every day. I need to get that off my chest.
You might think that my New Year’s resolution is to write more. It’s not. My resolution is to shed any guilt I might have for not writing every day.
Recently, I read a blog on Facebook—another great distraction to the actual art of writing—that has gone somewhat viral, particularly with literary agents: Amanda Patterson, the founder of Writers Write, has compiled the daily word counts of 39 famous authors, from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 3000 words a day because, “Anything is better than stagnation,” to the seemingly skimpy 500 word output of Ernest Hemingway, who said of it, “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
There are many others on the list who “aim” or “try” to write minimum daily outputs, and I can appreciate their attempts. I often struggle with my regimen and have ended many days feeling terrible about my ominous blank screen. How lucky for Barbara Kingsolver, who wakes up with words flooding her brain; if she doesn’t get up to write them down, she says, “they’ll accumulate in puddles.”
Now I don’t want to wax poetic. I too want my words to “puddle,” but if I force myself to write, my words come across as more of a “piddle,” I’m afraid. Why must I create rules for myself to write? The best thing about my craft is that we don’t have steadfast rules about these things. In fact, and perhaps this is a somewhat romantic notion of the writing life, writers create only when they are moved—affected in some way that compels them to write it down. It’s a silly notion, and I must be wrong, because writing courses, writing instructors and many writers who I have had the pleasure of sharing panels with are adamant that creating a habit of writing is vital, even if what you are writing is not good; to be a writer—to be a good writer—one must write diligently every day and develop a routine.
I guess I’m not a very good writer. For one thing, like many people in my circle of friends, of which very few are writers, time is a luxury in my life. I am a full-time teacher-librarian; I open the library at 7:00 a.m. and often don’t get home until 4:30. I am married with three teenage boys and family usually takes over: soccer games, chauffeur, groceries, cooking, homework helper, and the list goes on. I’m not griping, but I haven’t even mentioned the touring, book signing, readings, festivals, events, or blogging requests I receive on a weekly basis. I actually enjoy this part of my profession, unlike quite a few writers who prefer to be at home pounding away at their keys. But by the end of the day I’m exhausted. I struggle to brush my teeth, let alone sit at my computer to crank out a thousand words which, as Sarah Waters concedes, “might well be rubbish—they often are.” I see my lack of motivation to write as self-imposed writer’s block. I’m reassured by Sebastian Faulks, “Writer’s Block is God’s way of telling you to shut up.” Until now, I had never considered myself a Godly man.
Like Hemingway, (please, in no way am I making such a bold comparison), I’m the kind of writer that writes from the well only after the springs have fed it. That is not every day. There are droughts. I need to immerse myself in the world, and that means living my life by engaging with the people and situations around me. I need to be informed before I can plunge in and write. That often means days, even weeks without writing a single word.
Living as a writer means I’m always writing in my head. I have to wait for precious time to unfold to sit at my computer to have my words move from my head and onto the page. No more guilt. Don’t provide me with any writing prompts. I’m done with the notion of shame. I’ll stand with W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Anthony De Sa visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Cherie Dimaline, C. Fong Hsiung, Kurt Zubatiuk and a special guest talk by Lana Pesch, “Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”.