Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Writing: Creativity Needs Discipline

            Pivo, prosim: That's how you order a beer in Czech. Cervisiam, sodes: That will get you one if the bartender speaks Latin.
Last year, at Boskone, I picked up a flier printed by the Esperanto League of North America. It showed me how to order a beer in 26 languages and suggested that if we all learned Esperanto, we'd all get along better and, perhaps, get our beers quicker.
I'm not overly interested in learning Esperanto, but I took the flier. In my brain there's a germ of an idea: a novel with 26 chapters, each starting with someone ordering a beer in a different language. That's all I have so far. Maybe the protagonist is a multi-lingual secret agent, maybe it's a photocopier tech with a very specific phrase book. When I get the time, I'll work it out.

There are more ideas in the fancy little Moleskine notebook I picked up last summer after hanging out with Craig Childs. He swears by little notebooks. I also have a Word document on my desktop slugged “Idea Bank;” there are some story starts in there, too. When I get the time, I'll develop them, maybe outline a few.
It's really all about the time, right? There's so little of it, and so many things to fill it with. Finals are coming up, then a new semester full of students. The porch roof needs fixing. I haven't posted to my blog in a while. Some friends want to hang out. The new season of “Justified” is nigh. I have some books and stories to write.
Writer Nora Roberts once said, “You don't find time to write. You make time.”
Jane Yolen, author of some 300 books and frequent Boskone panelist said, Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
Harlan Ellison: “People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it.”
It doesn't sound like it's really about time for them; it's about discipline. If you want it, you work at it. Maybe that's what it should be about for me, too. More reps, more sets, more flexing of the muscle, less whining.
So, what kind of character would be able to order a beer in 26 languages?


  1. Obviously, the most interesting man in the world.

  2. Or the most nebbish, with a legitmately helpful iPhone app.