Today we’d like to welcome Stuart Jaffe to our special guest spot. Stuart is a prolific writer of short stories, with work appearing in Weird Tales, Strange Pleasures #3 and many more print and online magazines and anthologies. With his lovely wife Glory, he hosts The Eclectic Review, a weekly podcast in which they discuss science, art, writing, books, movies, tv, and whatever else falls in their laps. Take it away, Stuart!
Before I begin, I want to thank Misty for her friendship and for inviting me to write this guest spot at Magical Words, and to thank David for his inspiration and friendship. If you want to learn more about me and my writing, check out The Stuart Jaffe Website. Aside from being a writer, I am also the co-host of The Eclectic Review podcast. Show #165 has a review of Misty’s Mad Kestrel. So take a listen, and if you haven’t done so yet, go buy the book. It’s loads of fun. Now to the blog:
There are numerous rules to help us become better and more successful writers. On con panels, I often quote the six rules of writing — read, read, read, write, write, write. Here at Magical Words, I’ve noticed much usage of the indispensable rule BIC — Butt In Chair. Most of these types of rules center on the 99.99% correct concept that if you wish to be a writer, you have to sit down and, you know, write.
This past year, however, I discovered the odd merits of that .01% — not writing. That’s right. You read correctly. Not writing.
See, I ended up taking a teaching job to help some people out at the last moment. It was supposed to be a few months long. It lasted the entire school year. Initially, I just altered my writing schedule, getting up at five, and continued as usual. As the job progressed, though, I discovered why nobody wanted the position. Horrible management coupled with daily stress turned me into another person — an exhausted, on-edge grouch who lacked the mental capacity to write, let alone write well.
I tried. I tried every technique I could think of. The last was when I decided to write long-hand and ended with a page that literally trailed off as if I had died mid-sentence.
A while back, I read an interview with Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, in which he stated that he never writes between novels. Instead, he observes people and collects stories. Then, when all the disparate pieces gel together, he writes it all down. Well, I didn’t know about all that, but I knew that this horrid job would end eventually and that I would be able to return to writing. I also knew that I had to try something, so I decided to stop writing.
And something odd happened.
I sold a story I forgot was even out there and was asked to write two more for some upcoming anthologies. Knowing I had no brain power to form sentences, I discovered I still had the juice to dream stories. I put together the pieces in my head, jotted a few notes, and simply enjoyed the pleasures of imagining stories without worrying about each little turn of phrase.
I also re-examined my writing (I could still read, after all) and spotted problem areas that I had failed to notice before. They were so glaring but it took not writing to get my brain to notice. Many writers recommend that when you finish a story or novel, you should put it away for a few weeks or months before revising it. The time off from that work will give you a fresh perspective. Same idea here except at a greater magnitude — I wasn’t seeing a particular story with a fresh perspective, I was seeing my abilities as a writer with a fresh perspective.
Now the nightmare job is over and I’m back at the keyboard. I feel renewed, jazzed, and overflowing with enthusiasm to write. BIC? No problem!
Here’s the most important point, though, one I cannot stress enough — before you use this blog entry as an excuse not to write, remember, I am a published author. I know a few things about writing (not as much as I’d like to know, but a few). I do not recommend this for those of you just starting out. You need to write, write, write and then write some more. We all do. But for those who have been at it for awhile, it can help sometimes to take a step back — see that forest instead of those trees.