Write, Always Write (even if it doesn't feel right)!
For Some of Us, Creation Can Be Chaotic
I was recently visiting a Facebook writing group and I saw a young woman who was celebrating a successful day of writing. Her post read,
I wrote 4,517 words today! Whoohoo!
An author who had a couple successfully published books under his belt decided to comment...
“I prefer to focus on QUALITY, not quantity.”
While I replied back to this author, calling him a “major buzz-kill,” I also friended him on Facebook. That lead to an interesting conversation via Facebook messaging. I tried to point out that his curt statement could be very discouraging to some writers. He became defensive, talking about how he had offered in the past to help fledgling writers by being an editor for them, “at no charge”.
It quickly became apparent to me that this man had good intentions. But his statement could so easily be taken the wrong way, especially by a writer lacking self-confidence. The subtext could very easily read…
I write quality.
I also tried to explain to this gentleman how my own patchwork writing process works. Talking to him gave me ideas about what I wanted to talk to you about in my edition of this advice series from the Vocal Social Society. I’d first like to share…
My Personal Philosophy About Writing
I love using the analogy that Writing is like physically developing a muscle. The more you work out, the stronger you become, and the easier it ultimately gets. It's a discipline. Anytime a writer puts pen to paper, they are strengthening their ability to write.
Write every day. Write anything. Tap into that wellspring. Just Write.
Don’t know what to write about? Not feeling your muse? No good ideas?
Write emails to friends or family. I highly recommend keeping a little daily journal, where you record the significant events of your day. Write tons of worthless shit on FB! Use social media. I'm not advocating you get into heated debates with people online. I'm talking about writing about the things you're interested in— all the different things you love. Leave reviews. Make lists! Always have an actual pen and tablet available to jot down random ideas. 📒🖊️
Ideas that seem barely worth writing down today may turn out to be solid gold next week (or next month), after they've percolated in the back of your brain!
Let me tell you a quick story...
A writer with writer’s block is sorrowful that the only thing that they have written one day is a couple of lists. It feels trivial to them— meaningless.
Every word counts.
Certainly, not everything we jot down is useable in the long run. Not every musing I decide to write down is going to end up in a published story. But everything I write leads to the next thing. It’s like a string of mental firecrackers going off in slow motion (over the course of days instead of minutes). And hell, several of those firecrackers might fizzle (bad writing days, or the stories ultimately produced are mediocre), but as long as they POP!, they make the next POP! possible.
It’s like a string of creative energy.
This next analogy may not resonate with materialist atheists. This is one for people of faith.
I believe in Creative Flow. I don’t believe that the ‘juice’ for my writing comes directly from me. I liken being an author to being a painter. Painters don’t generally make their own paints; they buy paint and then use those pigments on canvas to create art. I believe I’m given creative energy from God— from the spiritual realm— and then I use that energy in my own unique way. Like a sculptor given clay by the Clay-maker.
The more often I get into that flow, the more often I access that 'vibe' where the ideas and words rush through me like a river— the easier it is for me to open that spigot of creative energy when I need it.
Sometimes, when I can't seem to write anything but lousy shit— stilted dialogue or bad descriptions that I look back on later and hate— that’s just because that creative flow is blocked off. But… just by persisting and producing, even if the end result is something that sucks, it helps to open that blockage and allows something else/new to flow in.
Everything we write counts. Nothing is trivial.
By exhausting an idea, by writing about it and writing about it, trying to get it right... never really getting it right... that can result in sweeping clutter out of the mind. Purge an idea by exploring it the very best way you know how, because if you can write it completely out of your system? It will open up that space in your subconscious vacated by the old idea. It makes way for something new.
Here's yet another reason why even your worst writing is valuable.
While it doesn’t happen that often, I'll impart some wisdom based on my experience as older writer. Occasionally, you will produce a story that you are certain is a stinking pile of rotting garbage. You’ll struggle to finish it and when you finally do, you won’t be happy with it at all. You might get horrible feedback on it. Or you might not ever even show it to anyone— you hate it just that much! So you bury it.
But then, a decade later, you’ll drag that piece of shit out and see it with totally new eyes. It’ll be like you planted this seed and it took ten (or eight, or six, or three) years to blossom. Ideas can lie dormant in our subconscious for a very long time, like they have completely disappeared and are totally forgotten— but then one day a new situation or a new connection will occur to us, and that old concept or that unexplored character will roar back with an entirely new ferocity.
Occasionally, doing something as simple as taking an old story written in third person point of view and changing it to first person (or vice versa) can cause that old tale to take on an entirely new relevance.
I have a science fiction story that I published not long ago on Vocal, a story that I wrote seven years ago. It’s called Rebel With A Lot of Claws. It's set in an alternate 21st Century world where people can contract feliocanthropy, transforming them into werecats during nights of the full moon. I felt it had new resonance when I published it recently, because it's about people dealing with a savage global pandemic. I shortened it before publishing it on Vocal, cutting 1000 words, and I also switched the protagonist from a man, Rick— to a woman, Ricki. That subtle change, making the main character a female, I think it gives the story just a little more added juice.
We grow as writers over time.
Establish that creative flow daily. Work to make it available to you by writing, writing, always writing something.
If all you write tomorrow is a note that says, “I’m grateful to be alive another day so I can continue to learn and grow,” you are a writer.
Hell, writing just a three-word love declaration to someone in a text makes you a writer!
Believe that. Remind yourself of that. You are strengthening your ‘writer’s muscle’ even when you are 'merely' figuring out something clever to say on a birthday card.
It all counts.
When this haughty published author I met recently online was being a Debbie Downer, telling someone to concentrate on 'quality, not quantity', I explained to him my own chaotic method of writing. I told him that if I had to worry about quality first, I would have never published anything. My first drafts aren’t always completely abysmal... but they often aren't great. I generally have an idea for an ending for my stories before I write the first word, especially when I write horror fiction. With my story I Was a Teenage Beehive here on Vocal, for example, I envisioned the ending first... so then when I went to write that story, I wrote everything building up to that ending, as opposed to having the beginning of the story in my head and starting there.
My first drafts generally run very long. They are wordy and redundant and, to an extent: experimental. I’m creating a framework with a first draft, a skeleton. Basically, I’m slinging shit to see what sticks! ⚡😁👍Often, when I finally have a Beginning, Middle, and End for a story, the first version that I’ve cobbled together is terrible. For me, the quality emerges in the editing process. I work and rework and rework things— often taking five-to-ten times longer to edit than I did to write the first draft.
I cultivated this method over the course of many years. I have developed two totally different mindsets for creating—
- ) Writing: shoveling shit
- ) Editing: eliminating everything shitty, fixing the problems, polishing, polishing, polishing.
It's like I'm this 👇 guy...
The right scarred Writer's face will say anything.
The left unblemished Editor's face will criticize everything.
I hope it’s obvious that my process won’t work for everyone. Some people agonize over every word as they produce a first draft. And that's fine. Whatever works!
What I need is a bunch of half-baked concepts and poorly chosen words written down so I can slowly develop those ideas, so I can hone my word choice, polishing up a final form (one that hopefully doesn't reveal how haphazardly it all came together).
We all have our own methods of writing. Develop yours. If something works for you repeatedly, strive to make that an unconscious habit by consciously continuing to repeat it. Conversely, if you realize certain things make you uncomfortable, or block your creative flow, or just continually fail to produce the results you want, use a mental sword and cut all that away. Trust your instincts! Only by being True to Yourself will you develop the unique voice that will make you proud.
I didn’t always do what I do now: embrace how disorderly my own writing process is. Somewhere along my journey, I consciously made this choice to see my first drafts (especially for longer stories/novels) as flinging shit. It’s even become a habit for me to intentionally repeat things as I write fiction. Early in a tale, if I spontaneously write dialogue or a description that I like, I might consciously repeat that dialogue in a later scene where characters are conversing. I try out certain ideas in different places throughout the narrative repetitively. Then, when I switch later into the entirely different mindset of Editor-mode, that is when I eliminate all the redundancies— that's when I figure out where that repeated dialogue resonates strongest, where the idea I'm trying to convey has the greatest impact and gives the biggest zing to the story's theme.
I'm Two-Face, but it works for me. 🤷♂️
I've trained myself to first spew words without any judgment, and then later become the editor who culls words without mercy.
Think of your first draft as Free Association. Write anything and everything that comes to mind. Don’t stop to correct. Don’t stop for anything. Just write unceasingly as long as words continue to _bolt through your mind. Write without consideration. Knowing you will judge later can make it easier to let go in the moment. Pour out words onto a page.
Once you have a first draft completed, set that aside for a day, ideally two. Sleep on it. Try not to think about what you wrote.
Then, when you go back to it as an Editor instead of a Writer, you’ll see it differently. Your initial reaction might be, This is awful! But that’s when you go to work and see if you can eliminate what’s bad, bolster what is good, identify your theme and augment it, and see if you can make something noble out of it. Sometimes you may fail and think it’s still terrible. But don’t ever think writing shit is a waste of your time! You purge your mind to make room for something else. You learn. You grow! You work that editor muscle, developing an eye for quality that will better serve you in the future.
Jot ideas down constantly. Keep one of these little guys 👇 at your disposal constantly (and feel like a writer every time you break it out to write in it longhand.)
Remember: What Works for Me/You Might Not Work For Someone Else!
This author who I (and many others) thought was being a major buzz-bill by raining on another author’s celebratory parade? He did mean well! He just thought because his process worked for him, it would work for everyone! That’s not realistic. His process certainly wouldn’t have worked for me.
If an author is celebrating anything at all— celebrate with them!
We are truly #BetterTogether.
Find a group who will understand your achievements and cheer you on to even greater feats. If you haven't found a group like that already, consider joining us in The Vocal Social Society! We encourage each other! We recognize each other’s special accomplishments. We have fun! And the Best is Yet To Come! We're about to take things to a Whole...
We invite you to add your unique voice to the mix!
Thanks! I hope you benefited in some way from this advice.
Happy Writing Day To You!
This series started with Keila Aartila's piece Acquiring A Publisher. Also check out Mike Singleton- MIKEYDRED's article entitled Business is Business and STORY GIRL CA- CAROLINE's piece: The Art of Storytelling.
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