Thursday, January 18, 2007

Writing on Demand

It's lovely to build a notebook, revisit your ideas, write what the muse inspires, work on the pieces that truly call to you, but what of the command performance? An opportunity or a need arises and - bam! It's time to write something, on a deadline. "Be creative," you shout at your poor brain as it stares at the blank page like a deer caught in the headlights. Is this writer's block or simple fear-driven paralysis? My college motto often breaks thru the paralysis for me - "It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be done." Still, is that the road to quality writing?

The command performance has the great advantage of demanding completion, demanding output, no excuses. Sometimes, that urgency can plow through the wall, free you of all your crazy internal editors and censors, drive you out of your writer's shell, stretch your writing muscles. "Write on this topic. Write in this genre. Write something of this length by this deadline." The sheer compulsion of external motivators can produce remarkable results.

How do you feel about the writer's command performance? What have you experienced as the best and the worst of your own writing on demand? Ever wished for those external motivators when you didn't have them? How successful are you at completing things without those demons driving you? When they're absent, what do you use to motivate yourself? Which do you prefer - intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?


  1. I'm still ambivalent about the command performance angle. Sometimes I wish I could be like Harlan Ellison or Walter Gibson, and write something brilliant on a few minutes' notice.

    But I think my muse has gotten more untrusting over time. Too many people have tried to kidnap it or enslave it. "Write what I want! Not your story, my story! Make money! Be famous! Justify your existence! Now!!!!" (I think she turned into a cranky Goth chick just to rebel!)

    On the other hand, sometimes I need a positive, constructive challenge ... or a swift kick in the seat of the pants, to force me out of an old pattern.

  2. Perhaps my background in journalism got me more comfortable with this sort of thing -- when you're writing for a newspaper, it is very much a matter of get the information, put it together, tidy it up, send it off to the typesetter -- and on to the next. So it's a little easier for me to do than it might be for some.

    That's not necessarily to say I do better work that way. :)

    I'm also put in mind of the whole NaNoWriMo business -- the whole point of which is to produce, and the only way to produce to the goal is to ignore all the usual conventions, internal censors, etc. and just get the damn words down. It can be a really wonderful, liberating experience -- or a 30 day trip through hell. Or both!

  3. NaNoWriMo??? National Novel Writing Month, I assume.


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