Monday, 4 November 2013

Writers Write, Right?

Generally speaking, starting writing isn’t the problem. If you’re up for it then getting words on the page isn’t that hard. At first.

Enthusiasm, motivation, belief in your ideas — these things tend to be in abundant supply at the beginning.

Two weeks later, though, things may have changed. It’s all very well sitting down with the right intentions, but what do you do when all that drive you had goes missing?

There are, of course, various techniques you can use to help focus yourself — set deadlines, have goals, write outlines, use a timer, promise yourself rewards — but all these things assume you have the will to keep going.

So how do you bring the magic back to your fingertips?

The short answer is: you don’t.

At some point, especially if you’re writing a rough and ready first draft, you’re probably going to start doubting yourself.

It isn’t good enough; it’s too similar to other stuff; you don’t know where it’s going; it’s boring; the writing is clunky; you hate it; too many clichés; not enough action; and on and on.

But not only should you not be too worried, you should actively expect this to happen. When you fall into a funk, when you feel there can’t be any value to continuing, when reading it back makes you cringe, you should recognise that for what it is: part of the process.

“Oh,” you should think to yourself, “I’m at that stage.”

It isn’t always easy to be that self-aware when you’re right in the middle of that feeling, but whenever you get that overwhelming desire to give up, take a deep breath and just accept it. Don’t try to fight it or resist it. Allow yourself to experience doubt... and then let it go.

Yes, it could be utter crap, that’s the chance we all take. A huge waste of time. But there’s no way to know that at this stage. You only find out after you finish. So finish.

And once you change your goal from it being great to it being finished, the task becomes more manageable.

That’s not to say you should lower your standards, but when you fall into the psychological trap of judging things before they’re ready to be judged it can often feel like the only escape is to cut your losses.

Keep writing and get to the end. If it feels like torture, so be it. Of course there will be some stories that will not be like that. Words will flow from start to finish and it will be a joyful experience. And if that happens be grateful but don’t expect every time to be like that. That’s the anomaly, the typical writing experience will be far from smooth sailing.

And once you have a complete draft and begin the rewrites, guess what, it’s going to happen again.

This has no potential; it can’t be saved; I’m wasting my time; I have no ideas how to fix this; might as well as scrap it and start again; and on and on.

“Oh,” you should think to yourself, “I’m at that stage.”

Expect it to be painful. Expect to doubt yourself. Expect to be tempted to give up. And, occasionally, the temptation will be too great to resist. But most of the time, if you’re able to recognise it, you’ll be able to move passed it. It’s just that stage.
If you found this post useful please give it a retweet. Cheers.

32 comments:

Dan said...

Excellent entry. One cool thing about blogging about NaNoWiMo every year is that I can refer back to past years and say "Yeah, I always feel like this in days 12-14."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Judging before it's at the judging stage - well put.
That's why I write best under pressure, such as NaNo. I'm so focused on making the daily word count and just writing that I don't have time to stop and think.

Murees Dupé said...

This was a great post and your words were very true and so wise. I needed to hear this. Thank you.

Anne Gallagher said...

I believe I am at that stage. Pick one. I keep second guessing myself at every turn. It sucks but there's nothing for it but to soldier on. Like you said, just finish it. And then I can get to the next stage.

Thanks, Mood. Timely advice.

Sarah Foster said...

I think that sort of doubt is what held me back the most in getting my first draft done. Eventually I had to realize that I wasn't going to get everything perfect right away, and it was ok to rush through a scene just to keep the story moving.

mooderino said...

@dan - eventually you start noticing a pattern, but would have been nice if someone had mentioned it when I started.

@alex - having someone stand behind you with a sharp stick also helps.

@murees - you're welcome.

@anne - onwards and upwards!

@sarah - it can feel quite depressing when the story isn't immediately brilliant, but like most good things it takes time to get it right (unfortunately).

Al Diaz said...

"Allow yourself to suck", I read recently somewhere. I have to repeat it to myself quite often when it comes to writing (or doing any other kind of art). Allow yourself to suck, it's just a stage.

Missy said...

All of those things have skipped through my mind at one time or another and none of them feel good. Of course, if it was easy I'd get bored with it.

Elise Fallson said...

"So how do you bring the magic back to your fingertips? The short answer is: you don’t." That was a hard and disappointing lesson for me to learn when writing my first ms. The crazed obsession I had to get the story onto paper was most addictive and it lasted months, then self-doubt settled in, then writer’s block and then the magic was gone. And I've never gotten that magic back, even now as I'm drafting a new project with budding shiny new ideas, things are different. The first couple of pages have been slow to come out and I'm much more cautious, about everything... writing can be so painful at times.

mooderino said...

@al - it's also very rewarding to take something that seems terrible and see it change into something that isn't.

@missy - mind you if there were a computer program that did all the hard stuff for me, I might be tempted....

mooderino said...

@Elise - i think it also makes a difference how you feel about other parts of your life. Approaching writing with a determined and enthusiastic mindset can be hard to do with all the other stuff we have to deal with. I've been trying meditation to help clear my mind but usually I fall asleep. i do think the magic will return (at some point), but you can't force it.

Maria said...

You wrote that especially for me didn't you? I fell into the funk...BUT, I've dragged myself out now, kicking and screaming, brushed myself down and now I'm wading through chest high fields of treacle rewriting. BECAUSE, I will finish, I will, I WILL!

Thank you.

Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Excellent advice, thanks for sharing it.

mooderino said...

@Maria - it's all for you. Always has been.

@Deanie - you're very welcome.

Rusty Webb said...

Well said on every point. I'm at that stage now. Part of the process I suppose. Time to just keep on chugging along.

robyn said...

Great advice! I always run into this problem and get so stressed about it. But you're right. It's much more productive to just accept that it's going to happen, and roll with it. Thanks for sharing!

mooderino said...

@rusty - yep, eventually the momentum will take over and you'll be back in the groove.

@robyn - cheers.

Diana Reed said...

I have tried meditation and if helped a lot. Check out Deepak chopra free 21day challenge. Its great

Gina Gao said...

This is a great post! I've been running into this problem lately.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

cleemckenziebooks said...

Interesting that I just posted about this. Not at eloquent, but a fun story about self-doubt and that stage of "what the. . .was I thinking when I started this thing?"

Thanks again for a great post on writing.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

The thing that makes me really get back into my story is being involved with the character. That's really important.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Moody, this post has come at the right time. I feel what I am writing is something no one may want to read, my main character is coming across as not too smart, I am worrying over the plot thinning out at places. Thanks for motivating me to keep writing.

mooderino said...

@Diana - never been a big fan of Chopra's but hopefully I can find my own quiet place.

@Gina - glad you like it.

@Lee - You're very welcome.

mooderino said...

@Mike - writing about a subject that you have a deep connection with also helps, but there's always going to be part of the story that deals with stuff you're less interested in. That' when it can get a little tough.

@Rachna - happy to be of service!

Shah Wharton said...

I always allow myself to suck; I have little choice in the matter - lol! Great post moody :)

shahwharton.com

Lexa Cain said...

Technically, I completely agree. Yet, I can't do it. I'm too much of a pragmatist to devote thousands of words to something I know has big problems. I need to stop, figure them out and then fix them in my head. Only then can go back, change things, and continue on. And this is why all my WIPs sit neglected. *sigh*

mooderino said...

@Shah - thank you.


@Lexa - it's a slow way to do it, although I know people who've made it work for them.

Jay Noel said...

I'm doing NaNo, and there was a great message from one of my local WriMo organizers who said that writing is a marathon. I go through a litany of emotions writing a 100,000 word novel. There are moments when I'm absolutely possessed and the words flow, and there are other times when I have to force the words out because I need to FINISH!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Nice tips, Mooderino, and they come at a good time: I'm at THAT stage. :-)

Laneshia Moore said...

I definitely needed to read this post because this is exactly the stage that I'm at right now. I found this to be extremely useful and motivating. I am so glad that what I am experiencing is common as it gives me hope that I can get through this phase like so many other writers.

mooderino said...

@jay - good luck with nano. Finish it!

@Elizabeth - cheers.

@Laneshia - glad I could help.

Chemist Ken said...

Ah yes, I think I recognize that feeling. Which is probably why I've just moved on to my third story, even though the first two aren't finished yet.

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