Don Reid is a member of country music’s legendary Statler
Brothers, has three Grammy awards, nine CMA awards, thirteen gold albums, and eight platinum awards and is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has published four non-fiction books, and /O/ /Little Town/ was his first novel. Reid lives with his wife, Deborah, in Staunton, Virginia. Learn more online at www.DonReid.net.
I have read so many times of writers bragging about their work schedule. “I get up every morning and write 500 words before dawn,” they like to say.
And I like to say, “Are you sure? Every morning? Always 500?”
My next question to them is do you really enjoy
writing? Are you sure it’s not a burden to you?
Come on now, don’t take the fun out of it. I love to eat but I don’t get up early to do it.
Writing should be a pleasure. You shouldn’t feel pressured to have something to say. If you force a paragraph, it will usually sound as if you have. Let it flow. Let it be a joy and a release.
Every day does not have to be a production as long as you are comfortable inside the deadline you give yourself to finish a project. Just be sure you’re being reasonable when you set those guidelines and you’ll see the thrill come back in what you’re doing.
I’m serious about my writing but not about my schedule. I like to live with an idea long before I commit anything to paper. I may walk around with an idea for a novel perking in my head for a month or six weeks.
I toy with it and change it and test the logic of it. I talk about it inside my head. I scold myself, praise myself, disagree and argue with myself until something akin to a plot completes itself somewhere in the foyer of my mind. Now I’m ready to develop but not write.
Believe it or not, my dog Chipper plays an important part from here on in. We stand in the driveway, sometimes for hours, and toss the tennis ball. I throw and he retrieves while I think of names and locations and settings for scenes. We go to the track and walk untold laps while I test dialogue out loud. Chipper turns every once in a while and looks at me with his head cocked to the side. He thinks I’m talking to him.
I don’t fear losing ideas with this technique. I figure if the idea is good it will stick with me; if I lose it, it probably wasn’t any good anyway. So after all this time of living with these people and a story in my head, it has become
as much a part of me as my memories. Now I go to the desk and begin to type. Chipper is lying at my feet and glad this stage has finally come as he likes sleeping much better than the track or even the tennis ball.
Still I’m only typing the outline. I list the characters that I want to interact. I list the chapters and note to myself what I want revealed with each one. This keeps the plot from surprising me someplace along the way.
I always know what I want my characters to do and where I want them to wind up, but I’m not always sure how they will react to certain situations and conversations. This is one of the real thrills of writing – surprising myself with little unexpected jolts as the people take life.
My agent said to me not long ago, “Isn’t
writing fun?” And you know what? It is. Working in the coal mines, farming, standing the factory line, greasing cars; that’s work.
But writing should have plain old, scrubbed-down, unadulterated joy right in the heart of it. It should leave you so exhilarated and high that you can float across the furniture. And if you’re not feeling this, make a change and try it my way. Don’t leave that keypad tired and exhausted; weary and drained. Leave it with an expectation that you can’t wait to get back to. Some days I get so involved I can’t even remember if I’ve eaten or not.
That’s when Chipper figures in again. He always lets me know when it’s time for lunch.