Writing on Demand
Tonight I was helping my daughter think through her high school Advanced Placement English assignment, which was to take one of the animals her classmates had named her as being like and write a Kafka-esque metamorphosis short story about it. Later, when I was washing dishes and contemplating my next blog post I realized we are more alike than different. We both must write on demand.
For her, the assignment is naturally due tomorrow. When was it assigned? Probably not today. But as a procrastinator myself, am I the one to blame her? For me, I have some leeway, but I still need to churn out a certain number of blog posts per week or month. This is nothing new. In 1997 I took on a monthly column for Library Journal, and kept it for a decade. Just try writing a monthly column for ten years -- it isn't always pretty, or easy. I would often finish it right at deadline, or even shortly thereafter. And the topics didn't always come easily. But I did it. Sometimes while balancing my laptop on my knees, while sitting on the toilet and making sure my 4-year-old twins didn't drown in the bathtub.
What is it like, writing not when you feel like it, but when you must? Most successful writers will probably tell you that this is simply the way it is. I've heard of very few writers, if any, who would write only when they felt like it. Mostly they force themselves to sit down and do it. Some have word counts that they must hit each day, no doubt knowing that some substantial portion of those words they themselves may cut or revise in the pursuit of brevity and wit.
In the end, writing is a craft, not an art or a science. It can neither be reduced to essential bits and reconstructed into another edifice by an algorithm, nor is it completely a talent such as painting. Rather, it is between an art and science -- it requires some bit of adherence to laws and yet is enriched by occasionally flaunting those same laws. Meanwhile, it requires the same dogged patience and attention to doing something well that only true craftspeople attain.
So yes, I write on demand. I write in most cases only because I must. But in this one way I'm no different than Jack London, or Charles Dickens, or Eugene O'Neill, or Olivia Tennant. All of whom write to pay the bills, or satisfy a teacher, or feed their demon. But who can say we are not the richer for their craft or the necessity that made them practice it? So yes, I write on demand. As do so many of us, and should.