Harlan Ellison was nothing if not bold. Most famously known for writing the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, he published more than 1,700 works in his lifetime. He was also known for writing stories in real-time.
Beginning in the 1970s, Ellison could sometimes be found typing away in the window of a bookstore. He would start with a simple idea, often suggested by a bystander. People would watch as he clack-clacked away on his typewriter. Harlan would finish a page and thwack! It was taped to the bookstore window. Finish another page, and thwack! Another page, another thwack. No editor, no second-guessing, just write, publish, and hope you can finish what you started.
In many ways, Ellison’s challenge is much like blogging. When I started blogging seriously years ago, Ellison’s approach was a bit of inspiration. So I took up the challenge to write a post a day. Write a post, publish it. Wash, rinse, repeat. The upside of this approach is that it teaches you how to write under a hard and fast deadline. It’s the type of skill you need if you want to get paid to write blog posts.
The downside is that it conditions you to write fast and all in one sitting. That’s fine for blogging, but not for longer works. As I’ve been trying to broaden my skills into works of fiction, I found the skills I developed as a writer were more of a hindrance than a benefit. Fiction, at least for me, can’t be written chapter by chapter in one sitting. If I wanted to write fiction, then I had to unlearn some of my writing habits. It isn’t easy.
But there is, I think, still value in Ellison’s approach. Not the requirement to publish quickly, but rather the forced constraint of writing in real-time. For me, that means setting aside chunks of time where I do nothing but write fiction. It helps that I write fiction by hand, so I can turn off all the electronic distractions of modern life. Set aside an hour of your time and write. Or think, or stare into space. The point for me is that once I start the timer, writing is the only thing I focus upon until the time runs out.
So far, that’s what seems to be working. I can’t vouch for the quality of my work, but it does generate wordcount. It is forcing me to learn new ways to approach writing. I’m still learning, and if it comes to something worth reading, I’ll let you know.