Monday, November 9, 2009

Writer’s Block (A Mythology)

First—I want to apologize for my weekend absence, but it may be how I roll for November, what with this NaNoWriMo insanity still upon me… In fact I’ve written a calendar for the next three months (one of the many ways I am a geek) and am pretty sure I will be a writing fool until the end of January, as I intend to have my NaNo project done, but also the Conspiracy Trilogy (which means 1 ½ more books—probably a total of 120K words left for that project alone). But you know what? At the end of January, if it goes according to plan, I will have written FIVE books… That is just baffling to me (considering at the moment I’ve written two and a year ago I was staring at the as yet untyped conclusion of my first).

Anyway… In my observing of my fabulous friends doing the NaNo thing, I’ve been thinking about a philosophy I’ve had for a long time, and I thought it seemed like a good time to get it out there.

What brought it up?

Probably that a few simple rules… sitting down and writing every day, mostly… okay… that’s only one rule, but there is also the ‘don’t fear writing crap’ rule, so we’re back to two… one rule shy of what I think of as a few, but never mind… that two simple rules have turned a couple hesitant writers into prolific writers.

Inspiration as Mythology

This is I believe the biggest culprit of works that get abandoned… a belief that the muse must be present for the writing to flow. In reality, the crafty muses are fickle, and may only come around every once in a while. Usually they only show up before you ever start, taunting you with some fabulous idea and then disappearing entirely. Writing is actually a task of perseverance… of being willing to keep pushing, even in absence of any muse at all (unless you name your cat Muse, then she might stick around, provided you feed her and give her some string).

THIS is why we need to be willing to write a little crap sometimes… sometimes ANY MEANS NECESSARY is the only way to get from point A to point B, and we just need to be resigned to editing later. In fact LATER is when we will know how the whole ending goes and we can actually come back and put something in that foreshadows, or alludes, or has nice parallels with the later story. Having some things that will absolutely have to be changed is a bit of an opportunity… think of it THAT way!

Don’t want to write crap? Then don’t write anything. Put a note in there about the kind of connector you will put in later and skip ahead! There is no rule about a book being written starting on the first page and ending on the last page.

Perfect First Drafts as Mythology

I know those of us coming from Fan Fiction often write, proof read and post, without major editing. I think this serves a valuable role, but you might not want to hear what it is… I think editing is so onerous for most of us, that we might not WRITE something if we thought we had to edit the damn thing… so the format allows us to write in a way that encourages more writing. THEN when we are ready to take the leap… the next step… dive in to a domain where somebody might want to pay MONEY for what we wrote, THEN we can swallow the bitter pill that editing is just part of the process.

I have been reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (have to take it back today and I’m not done… Poo!) and the way he puts it is ‘the first draft is for you, it’s your story. Then you take out everything that isn’t part of the story, and that is the story for public consumption.’ (I’m paraphrasing of course) but our job is really just to get the story OUT, warts and all, and then we go back and pretty it up for others to read after the fact. First draft, door closed, second draft, door open (also his words).

I think that is a liberating idea to those of use who wrote in the closet for years (I literally did—my closet where I grew up was above our stairs and so was elevated with a slant to one side… it was a nice little nook to sit in and write when I was feeling particularly angsty.) We can sometimes feel like our writing is crap and not worth sharing, when in fact… it may be crap and not worth sharing, but ready for a nice sparkly polish and then it will be FABULOUS.

The whole idea that we need a muse to keep plugging away is nothing but a conspiracy...

The Veterans

I think people, after writing for a while, all get their bearings and so much of what they write is nearly ready for consumption, but I think it is STILL liberating to not think every line has to be perfect. I think even among the experienced, demand for perfection right out of the gate can be like an all cheese diet… likely to completely block you after a while, no matter HOW good it seemed going down.


Tundiel said...

Excellent (and timely) post, Tami! *looks for the like button* And hey, isn't that MY pussy you're talking about? *ducks*

Watery Tart said...

Yes. Tara, amd a lovely pussy it is! (glad it was timely!)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I try desperately to remember that it's okay to write crap once in a while because I'm the only one who sees it. I've also found that the crap seems to lessen as I continue to write. Now I have to learn not to growl at myself.

Best of luck with NaNo.


Crystal Clear Proofing said...

What interesting views on the actuality of getting a story down on paper, (figuratively speaking).

I've never encountered this particular way of looking at writing. Very enlightening...

Watery Tart said...

Elspeth, i would think growling might occassionally be nice! Then again, maybe not at yourself...

Crystal-hopefully a HELPFUL way to look, not just a foreign one! Though everybody is different... that is important to always remember, but I think to a lot of people this is liberating--especially people who spend so much of their time polishing and making perfect like you do.

M.J. Nicholls said...

Thanks for this. I've been stalling on my current WiP longer than is humanly sensible, and needed the fillip.

I'm going to spurt it out this week and torture myself later.

Great post!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

There IS a writing mythology, isn't there? Like you, when I made those discoveries, the writing came so much easier and quicker!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Mark--so glad it helped! WRITE WRITE WRITE! Doesn't matter at ALL if the first draft is pants!

Elizabeth--it was amazing how liberating, yes? Not to have to just wait for the story to descend... just write!

Chary Johnson said...

Tami, this is a great post. I can empathize. When I put away all my irrational beliefs of perfection and overthinking the plot, my writing actually progressed. I didn't realize that I was a hindrance to my own writing.

*kicks writing mythology*