A fellow writer asked: "Hey, I'm trying to get writing again...any tips?"
JUST BLOODY START WRITING ABOUT YOUR DEEPEST PAIN. BLOODY WRITE EVERY DAY. DON'T TAKE ANY BLOODY BREAKS. (Okay, okay, chill. Some more practical tips are coming.)
I'm in the middle of a 2 week break between CORNERS drafts right now, and I'm tearing my hair out. Perhaps this is the last time I'll ever take a break like this. The irrational fear of "I forgot how to write a book!" is starting to get on my nerves. Worse. The more days pass by, the more I start doubting myself, thinking myself an impostor, even reading books on writing―which I never do. It's a big mistake. The only thing reading books on writing does is it sends me further down the spiral of self-doubt. Why? Because.
Every writer writes their own way. It is not up to someone to teach them their art. Yes, you can go to classes. Yes, you can study it. Yes, you can prepare yourself before plunging into writing, and then, Surprise! You will have to throw all that knowledge out the window. Yes, you must know rules, you must operate the tools of your craft easily, tool like grammar and basic storytelling elements, but that's it. The best way to learn how to write is to read a lot of books and pick up patterns from there, and write more, and read more, and keep doing this until you discover things your way.
Think of your kids. Ever told a kid not to touch a hot pan? Did that work well? I bet it didn't. But once she touched it, she didn't touch it again, did she? Well, maybe one more time, but that's it, right? You get the point.
I'll illustrate on my own example.
I have recently read THE MAGUS by John Fowles and am right now reading FROM WHERE YOU DREAM: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler. And while the first book taught me a fantastic deal about plotting, the second one is both giving me insights and driving me bananas. In it, in the second book, are some great things, like Butler's dissection of Hemingway and Atwood passages. And there are things that made me want to hang myself, like his card-writing method and dreamstorming. He basically says that plotting is dead (how can you write while knowing the end?) and drafting is confusing (how do you get out of plot pretzels you set up by accident?). His method is to sit for hours and get himself into a trance mode and jot down one line per scene on cards (without writing actual scenes) and then arranging and rearranging the cards before starting to write, and then, when he starts, if things take him in a different direction, to dream up more cards, and so on.
This plunged me into depression. That is, of course, because I'm still unsure of myself as a writer, and any book that's published somehow impresses on me that whoever wrote it must know better.
There is no wrong way to write. The only wrong way to write is to not write at all.
That is why I suggest you don't read any books on writing, but read actual fiction. The only two I always recommend are ON WRITING by Stephen King and SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Read your medium, whatever it is you want to work on. Novels. Short stories. Plays. Poems.
Here is another example for you, on what I have learned from reading THE MAGUS. Its plot is layered like dolls of a martryoshka. The book is about an Englishman befriending a mysterious millionaire on a desolate island in Greece and falling prey to his deadly psychological games. You can read my review here. What is about to follow is a spoiler, so I suggest you read the book first and then come back to this post.
The Englishman encounters strange people in the vicinity of the millionaire's secluded villa. He makes up opinions about them, naturally, wanting to find out who they are, because everyone in the village tells him that the millionaire lives alone. In the course of the book, these strange people interact with the Englishman in various ways that get more and more disturbing. What I saw―and it might be different for you when you read it―were identity layers. Or, in matryoshka terms, identity dolls.
- Doll 1. First he thought he saw ghosts. For a while I was reading the story on the edge of my seat, getting all excited about ghosts.
- Doll 2. Then he figured out they must be actors. So I was enthralled by that idea. And puzzled. And wanted to find out more.
- Doll 3. Bam, he realized they are psychologists and are practicing sick experiments on him. It got darker. I was still on the edge of my seat.
- Doll 4. Cult members. With chills running down my spine, I saw together with the Englishman that that's what they really are.
- Doll 5. It keeps getting better. I thought it was impossible to uncover any more dolls. Yet suddenly these people, the millionaire including, were impersonators of other people's identities. Brrrr... This must be it, right? Nope.
- Doll 6. Immigrants. Ah, okay, now we understand. It's because they were foreigners―he was a foreigner (this doll pertains only to one character, the millionaire)―that he was seeking a new identity, he (and his accomplices) was obsessed with it the way cult members get obsessed with an idea, he (and them) was studying human psychology to gleam solutions to his own questions, he made them enact it to convince their victims of another reality, and, finally, he used fear―ghosts―to draw them in. You know, that childish curiosity―I know I'm not supposed to go down that dungeon, I know bad things will happen, I know I shouldn't take another step down this staircase, I know this breath on my neck should send me screaming but my throat is so dry I can barely draw a breath...
There. I have seen something perhaps others won't see. I have seen it my way. Matryoshka dolls? It will be something else for you. But it struck me. It hit me in the gut and got me inspired to try it. And what did the book on writing did? Depressed me. Although at first it excited me. I will steer away from them on purpose now, until I'm ready or maybe need one for some specific reason.
Now, tips. Tips on getting yourself back to writing.
- Set a date. Take a look at your calendar and set the first day you will begin writing. Mentally prepare yourself for it, but don't take more than a couple days to do it.
- On that day start writing first thing in the morning. Do not read news. Do not check your email or Twitter or make phone calls. Do not talk to anyone. If you work, wake up 2 hours early and write before you go to work. Yes, it sounds brutal, but it's the only way.
- Write every day, weekend or not. If you take a break, getting yourself back into your story will be torture. Write for at least 1 hour every day as opposed to doing 8-9 hour sprints on weekends.
- Stick to a set of tools you use, to get yourself in the mood. Your favorite chair. A cup of coffee. A notepad. A pair of favorite socks. Whatever it is, let your body know you're writing.
- As soon as you open your new blank document, write the first thing that comes to mind. Even if it's "I don't know what to write about." Just start typing, you will cut it off in the following drafts. Feel. Which leads me to the next point.
- Write about something that's been bothering you for years. A pain. A nightmare. Write about that thing that scares you. Go into your inner darkness and face that monster.
- If you're stuck, don't get sucked into washing your dishes or doing laundry. Think. Just be with yourself and think. The right idea will come, if you let it surface.
- Don't be afraid to write absolute nonsense. You can discard what you wrote later. The point is to get you back into the habit, and the habit is―to write every day.
You can do it. I know you can. If I can, with my irrational fears, you can too. Happy New Year, and happy writing!