Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Meg Waite Clayton: 2,000 Words or 2:00, and Writing Friends

Writing Group
The history of my own writing starts with a little brown lunch bag. Like the character of Linda in my novel, The Wednesday Sisters, my first writing teacher—at a college extension class—dumped a bag of "interesting things" out over the table and told us to write for five minutes about anything that spilled. She swore we wouldn’t have to read (just as Linda does in The Wednesday Sisters when she’s pushing the sisters to write at the picnic table in the park). Then she called on me to read first.

Which is the good news. If she hadn’t, I’d have ducked out before she could. It had taken all the nerve I had just to get to that class, to admit that, yes, I dreamed of writing novels.

wednesdaysisterspbackcoverbenchfinalTo make a long story short from that point, I’m just going to say it: Ten Years. That’s how long it took me from dumped bag to first novel on bookstore shelves. The thing that kept me going: writing friends.

Much like the Wednesday Sisters in the book, my writing group of four, when we first started meeting, could count among us only a single travel piece in a small distribution magazine. We can now claim seven books published or being written under contract with a major publisher (seven! it still delights me to say that!), and numerous article, essays, stories and poems in print. We all have published now, and we all have agents. Was there something in the coffee where we used to meet in Nashville?

The one thing we've all brought to the writing table is persistence, or what I like to call the absurd ability to believe in ourselves long beyond the time any rational being could do so.

I'll say it again: Ten Years. TEN YEARS. And sadly, I was the quick one. But the good news is that when your paperback comes out with "National Bestseller" splashed across the top of it, you REALLY appreciate it.

My writing routine is pretty simple: I sit down and write, every morning. 2,000 words or 2:00. If I have 2,000 words by 10:30, I can party the rest of the morning and all afternoon. (Although if I have 2,000 words by 10:30, I am staying glued to that chair for as long as that blessing lasts.)

Every morning!


Bobbie retold on this blog a story I tell at readings about how I sat down to write one morning and got up a few hours later with the guts of The Wednesday Sisters - really it was a blessed writing day. But I tell that story not because it was this great moment of inspiration, but because it came on a day when I would rather have been scrubbing toilets, when, if I didn't make myself sit down and write every day, I would not have sat down.

Also, it makes a much better story than the many mornings I sit down and not much comes.

I work mostly on a keyboard, but I start most things in my journal. The beauty of a journal, for me, is that it's not anything, I'm just doodling. It's less intimidating than a blank Word document. For me, getting something started is the hardest part, so I start anywhere I can. I often just write whatever I'm thinking. The journal entry that turns out to be the kick off entry for The Wednesday Sisters starts, literally, with the words, "Feeling incredibly well-run-dry today." A pity party, yes, but also ink on the page. A start.

I have lots more about how I write, the little things I keep around me for comfort and inspiration, and how I research, outline (not just yes, but in several different ways), and revise on the writing page on my website. Click on the desk drawers on the page for tips on how to get started and other resources.

And come back Friday, for a post about publishing. - Meg


  1. Meg, I so enjoyed this post. You've helped me with my own daily goal-setting. Not 2,000 words or 2:00, but a happy 1,000!!! It's awesome to reach that number, and to feel I have the rest of my day, even if it's only 1 p.m. Of course, often I can't reach that, and in fact I've CUT much more than I've added . . . Yet it is so, so good to have a daily goal. Thank you!

  2. Meg, how inspiring--I hadn't seen this before. Mary Oliver once said if we don't show up, neither will our muse. She was not the first to say this, but it's so true. There's no guarantee that the muse will show if we do, but it's *certain* that she won't if we don't. See also this really marvelous TED talk by Elizabethe Gilbert: And just wait for the Ruth Stone story!

    And did you see the article in the NYT this morning, on Target? You and the Wednesday Sisters are there! Congratulations!

  3. I don't know how to do links on this site, but it's worth cutting and pasting these URLs.

  4. You know, I used to just make myself write 1,000 words a day - but the manuscript I just sent back (accepted already, but minor revisions! yay!) came from writing 2,000 words a day. I was worried that I was pushing it - I had a deadline - but everyone (agent, husband, readers) think it's my best yet. So there you go! It works!

    I mean, the showing up definitely is the only way to go - but I think 2,000 words a day is the right amount, too.

  5. Congratulations, Meg, on the selection of THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS by the Target book club! You must really be thrilled. My first novel, NORTHERN EDGE, also took me ten years to write, won the Discover Prize, came out in paperback (with modest sales), and is out of print now. VIVALDI'S VIRGINS has been doing much better (and has been sited at both Target and Cost-Co). But I'm still waiting for those royalty checks (royalty checks?) to start rolling in. No doubt about it, trying to earn one's living as a fiction writer, in this time and place, is a terribly difficult thing!