03 June 2011

As a writer, this bothers me ...

Let me start by saying, I have not read this book. But, the title alone makes me shudder.
No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days - WritersDigestShop.com
Not having a plot is a HUGE problem when trying to write a novel. And writing a decent story with good characters in 30 days when you don't know where you're going is almost impossible.

I think my bigger beef is related to self-help writing books, similar to this one, which don't do much but delay the actual process of writing. Now, I have quite a few lining my bookshelves, I'm not going to lie, but I long ago learned that, as cliche as it sounds, writers WRITE. Writers also read, but they read strong stories by good writers they aspire to be; not self-help platitudes that imbue you with a false sense of "can-do-it-ness." Of course, every writer needs inspiration, I know I need copious amounts on a daily basis, but I take that inspiration (and support) from other writers, people I met while getting my Master's degree at USC or in classes I took through the UCLA Extension program. When another writer you respect, published or not, tells you you can do it, sitting down to write the next three chapters or starting the next revision or figuring out your main character's arc is suddenly a lot easier.

There are some writing books that I think are very useful, including ones relating to writing specific genres (i.e. Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy) and reference books that can help to inspire or inform a particular element of a story. But I spent a few years thinking that the more I read about writing, the better I'd get at it. And why? Because I was afraid to actually put my fingers to a keyboard and see what came out. Because I was afraid that if I actually sat down to write, I'd find out I wasn't really a writer.

I'm not going to say this was wasted time; I believe I needed those years of fear to get to the somewhat fearless place I'm in today. I definitely needed those years to realize that no matter how much I delayed actually writing, I had a passion to do it and that wasn't going away. But in the end, what propelled me to go to graduate school and really believe I could do it, was sitting down to write a few hundred pages of fiction. And then getting feedback.

As writers, we're in a constant struggle with our psyches and egos; we are constantly telling ourselves we can do it, and in the same thought telling ourselves that once we do, it's going to suck. We make a ton of excuses why we can't write -- cooking dinner, cleaning the house, working out, taking care of others -- we don't need more. We don't need to feel an obligation of any kind to read books about writing that promise some kind of secret formula to novel-writing or storytelling.

You write a novel by sitting down and writing it; by writing pages and pages and pages of prose and then hacking them to pieces and writing hundreds of pages more. I'm not trying to imply this is actually easy. It's not. It's easier to read books about writing than to actually write, trust me, I know. And if reading books like this serves as inspiration for you, then by all means, keep doing it. But remember, you may have dreamed up the next great American novel, but no one can read it out of your brain (at least, not yet. Although, this might be where the technology is heading.) Until then, we are forced to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard and write it out.

So write. Write as much as you can even if it's just a list of things you want to write about. The important thing is to get used to sitting in front of your computer or notepad and committing thoughts to the medium. The important thing is to remember that the actual act of writing, of seeing a story you imagined come to life is by far more rewarding than sitting around and thinking about it. And writing it down is the only way to silence the Fear demon that sits on your shoulder, hissing nastiness in your ear. Once you start taking charge of your writing, he loses all his power. Shocking, but true.



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