So this writing thing. It turns out it’s hard to do. It takes a toll. I’m not complaining, mind you, just making the observation. I have been working on multiple projects, one after the other more than all at once, since September. I’ve discovered I’m not good at multitasking on projects. None of the writing projects were for a paycheck, they were just for practice. Bah, you say, writing doesn’t take practice. Oh, no, I assure you. Writing takes practice. This is what I have learned and am a little surprised by, so I’ll share.
The obvious reason for practice is the whole “putting words in their proper order” thing, finding that writer’s voice. Sometimes the words just spew out in the perfect formation, the perfect timing and pacing and perfectly concise. Other times, they don’t. But improvement always happens whether you intend it to or not. It’s called practice; even writers have to pay attention to the old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall” joke. You get better steps at a time until you’re good. (I’m still at the getting better stage.)
The next important practice lesson is related to the first: editing. When those words don’t just flow out in the perfect prose, editing is required to get them there. And a large part of editing is the practice at recognizing when your work is weak. What places aren’t clear or don’t make sense? Where could you be more concise? Does that sentence have any relevance at all to the rest of the paragraph? As the writer, I know what I meant to convey because, well, duh, I wrote it, so it obviously made sense in my head. But that doesn’t mean it is what comes across to the reader. Recognizing the difference takes work. Being willing to repair the fault takes more work. Not murdering the poor unlucky bastard who dares point out your mistakes takes goddamn Herculean restraint sometimes. But, son of a god or not, even Herc had to train. In the case of writing, it becomes stronger for the author’s ability to recognize when to edit, how far to edit, and when to say enough is enough before you make mincemeat of good words.
And the last practice point I’ve learned is the one you always hear about but never fully understand until you realize you’re doing it. You have to practice devoting the time to writing. It becomes a second job. One you don’t necessarily reap any financial benefits from. The benefits come in other ways. The more you make a routine out of putting your butt in that writer’s chair, the more your brain learns to think about writer stuff. Less writer’s block! Less format/punctuation/grammar quandaries! Less wondering what comes next! Did I mention less writer’s block? Not to say it doesn’t happen, because it does, but you teach yourself how to work through it. Working through it is key and the only one who can teach you how to work through it is… yourself.
The more time you spend doing-the-writing-thing, the more you learn to catch the errors as you make them. You learn to think like your characters, how they would respond, what choices they would make and how the story would be steered by those choices. You learn to think as you go and loosen up about the whole “plan” you started with (sometimes where you expect to end up and where the story actually goes are two different places. Sometimes they’re more than two. And that’s actually all okay.) so that you end up with a story and characters that are true to the story and the characters rather than a rigid idea of where they were supposed to go. A parent doesn’t know who their toddler will be at the age of twenty, so why does a writer have to know exactly how a character will grow from whatever toll they are put through by the story? Guidelines are useful, but don’t let them strangle you.
The trade-off is a personal toll on the writer if they’re not careful. You find out who your friends are. Who is willing to put up with your flights into a fantasy world that only exists in your head. Who is willing to give you the space and the time to write. Who is willing to be your sounding board and cheerleader and reality check when you need any or all of the above. Those people are rare and precious. Other people demand your time, never recognizing the fact that writing, whether it makes money or not, is a second job, or maybe a third one. Some people see it as a pipe-dream that will never happen, because someday never gets here. Which is all well and good, pragmatic if not embittered, but if you want to be a writer, you can’t buy into that schtick. It’s a line that will derail every thought process it encounters. We can be our own worst critics, highly susceptible to that kind of logic, and it can be poisonous. Stick with the people who believe in you for purely selfish reasons: if they believe in you, it must mean there’s something to it, so you can believe too. (I know that sounds sappy and ridiculous, But I’m Not Kidding!) Even if it’s stupid, keep doing it, and listen to the people who tell you it’s not stupid. If they tell you it’s stupid, find out why, and make it un-stupid.
That’s all the crazy, stand-out, “Woah, they weren’t kidding in the disclaimer!” stuff I’ve learned in the past six months of trying to be a writer. It’s the stuff I’m going to keep reminding myself as I go along because some of it is too easy to forget, and it can get to feeling like ramming your head into a wall. Well, it’s part of the process, as it turns out!
So how do I cope? I keep some coffee handy. If you’re going to bash your head into walls, at least have some liquid energy to really give it your all. 😉