Sunday, July 9, 2017

Write like you don't care.

I can't tell you the number of people I've run into that have the tools to write a book and never get around to it. They have much too high expectations of their first efforts.

But at the same time, it's these high expectations that get some people to actually write a book. The financial rewards are usually so unrealistic it isn't worth talking about. That reality will hit you fast enough and if that's the only reason you're writing, then you might as well quit now.

It's the response by your family and friends that you have to overcome. Either they'll blow smoke, tell you what you want to hear, or they'll be honest.

It's enough to crush ambition. least what happened to me is that the urge to write returned, again and again, after each crushing. And I slowly got a little better. But at first, most writers aren't going to be at the level they hoped for.

So they write something and they think it's pretty good and they expose it and find out maybe it isn't that good, so they try again, and it falls short again but there is a bit of improvement, and then you do it again, and you've got the beginner mistakes out of the way but you find even bigger problems, never ends.

It's a constant negotiation with reality.

I'm always trying to write the "good" book. That sounds modest, but it isn't. It's the Holy Grail. It's something that very few writers ever actually manage. It's my own definition, I guess. A "good" book that is so good that people talk about it, pass it along to others, reread and savored.

Every time I start a new book there is a chance it will happen.

But I can't put that expectation on myself or nothing will get done. I do best when I just wing it, write whatever comes to me, enjoy the process, not care whether anyone else is going to like it.

It's a bit of a Catch-22, I suppose. I might be better served trying to figure out what might be commercially viable, then do a lot of planning to achieve that goal.

But...that book will never get written. Has never gotten written. A few times I've tried, and the result wasn't that good, frankly. It fell flat. Right idea, right approach, flat result.

Bad idea, bad approach, lively result.

Anyway, if I had any advice to beginning writers it would be to write like you don't care. Do it for your own amusement.

Of course, the old pros would probably look down at this approach. But for me, it's very liberating. And it doesn't keep me from trying to get better. I just give myself breathing room, and the chance to have fun, and to keep the sense of exploration alive.


Dave Cline said...

My project is coming together better than I expected. When I get it to the point of presentation I'll share it with you.

And its spark has sparked my own - or vice-versa... Hard to tell which way that works.

I still don't follow my rules (below). I want my narrative to be right -- the first time -- and not have to think I need to comeback to it because it's just so damn rough. I know I'll need to re-edit (many times), but actually /planning/ to come back? I'd rather take my time, re-read, edit in-situ.

At least with this project I "think" I'll have a better chance at having it seen by more than just three or four people. And that glimmer of hope, currently, is my driving force.

I have this growing list on my desktop:

Write with abandon. Write for fun. Write to explore.
The editor sucks. Kill the editor!

• Write a book I wish already existed!
• Am I passionate enough about my topic to spend a good deal of time with it?
• In what ways is my topic unique?
• What about my topic will attract readers to my story?
• Can I create strong, dynamic characters that will thrive in my topic?
• In what location and era will I set my characters in order to best unravel my story?


Writer's Wrules:

• Every time you write a "was" think: How else could I say this?
• For every quote, ask yourself: How did they say it?
• For every dialog there are emotions: Who is happy, sad, angry, dispondent?
• For every passage there is a setting. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What is the weather, the climate? What time is it? What season is it? What room or terrain are they in?

Characters have:
• Intent -- what are they doing, where are they going, why are they going there?
• Conflict -- Everybody doesn't like something or someone.
• History -- Something happened to everyone that causes them to behave like they do, what is it?
• Behavior and physical details: -- ticks, eccentricities, scars, colorations, weight, height, deformities, habits, eating styles, talking styles, walking, or just being styles.

• Don't TELL or REPORT! Show the reader what's happening!

Duncan McGeary said...

How about, "Don't overthink it." (?)

Seems like your first set of rules are undercut by your second and third set of rules. Remember, most readers are just reading a story. As long as it's coming across, as long as it's effective, you can get away with not being perfect. In fact, you can get too tight, I think. The fictional dream should feel natural, not like it was carved out of stone.

Maybe it's an excuse for being lazy. I write, become aware of a problem, try to address it, write some more, become aware of another problem, try to address it.

Of course, I haven't gotten very far, so maybe working on one project for a long time will get you further along than whipping them out the way I do. But what I'm finding more and more is what feels "natural" is right and the less editing and control I try to use, the more natural it feels. The more I get out of my own way, the less "writerly" I try to be, the better.

That is, as long as I've mastered some of the rules first, which is contradictory, I know.

When I write a blog, I don't edit at all. Rarely I'll go back and realize, oh that was pretty badly written, but...I wouldn't write the blog if I had to slave over it.

So like I said, write like you don't care. Just tell your story, worry about the writing later.

Duncan McGeary said...

I tied myself up in knots in my first writing career.

When I came back I had one rock-solid rule. Don't edit or rewrite until the first draft is done.

I still believe in that rule, though I've allowed myself some editing as I go along. But to be honest, I'm not sure I should even do that.

Duncan McGeary said...

Oh, and I look forward to reading it. I really liked what I've so far read.

Dave Cline said...

Writing does seem to be an odd mix of disciplines.

Writing code? You write the spec, Write the supporting pieces. Write the data access layer. Write the business logic. The write the UI. But of course this never happens. You end up writing parts of all of these in a never ending circle, like the wagon train "Whoops, looks like I'm back to writing data access again... (cuz the spec changed.)"

Story first. Then craft.

Sure, I get that. But with 100,000 novels written every year, I'm willing to see if another approach will fit my writing style.

And yeah, the two sets of rules were two different half of writing. But both are necessary no?

Dave Cline said...

You have to admit though, that if one could master the listed craft rules, and not ever think about them as you write your story, in the end, you'd have a masterful story told.

Maybe that's really what the masters are able to do. Though many of them, I've heard admit, that it's the writing that's the not the focus of production, its the editing that is king, queen and jester.

(And I think I figure out my reticence to this paradigm. The one novel I wrote, it took so much effort to edit, at least 5 major edit sessions. And then it STILL needed to be rewritten... which I have put off so far. So, yeah, well, that fact: "dave you sucked at writing so much that 5 edits and still you couldn't get it right," traumatized me. So, as much as the story sung a great song. The writing still sucked. Call me cautious, but I need to get my craft way way up, before I can ever think to - just write the story.)

Duncan McGeary said...

But that's what happens. At least it did for me. I flailed around with Star Axe for five years; got help from writer's classes and a professional writer, and somehow got it published though it's nowhere as good as I can write now.

I whipped out a second book, only marginally better. They forced me to rewrite the third book, and it's probably the first one I wrote that was any good.

Then backward on the fourth and fifth books, a bit of a step forward on the sixth, and then a misstep on the seventh.

Pretty intensive writing of about five years after Star Axe, so a little more than one per year, and I went backward half the time and gave up at the end.

I made the choice not to overthink it, not to try to outline, to trust my instincts and to say yes to every idea and keep writing and writing. I think that was the best approach for me and I got better despite myself.

Duncan McGeary said...

You can know what to do and still not do it.

You can do it right not knowing what to do.

This is probably a questionable statement but, A bad book written is better than a good book unwritten.

Honestly, it's a sliding scale. You're trying to jump on at a certain accomplished level, and I get that, but maybe you don't become accomplished without doing it a bunch.

Duncan McGeary said...

I'm an obsessive compulsive writer, so I have to fight that. You obviously approach things in a much more considered way.

Ira Glass's writing advice:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Duncan McGeary said...

The only thing that I'd add to that is: we all now have the option of putting out that earlier material on Amazon if we want to. I've tried to be discriminating about it. I've got 12 books that I'll probably never publish, even for myself.

There's a certain threshold, and I know it when I see it.

But I also allow myself the illusion that I don't have to write to please the Big Five, that what I write might be worthy in itself.

Dave Cline said...

Yes, all of that.

"In the beginning our work sucks. [ insert way too many steps ] ... And now our craft is honed, and appeals to our own tastes."

I want to figure out a way to remove many of the middle steps. I want to take those 10,000 hours and compress them into 5,000 or fewer. I figure by practicing, yes, but in a much more intense way, I can skip some of them. More importantly, I figure if I can't condense them, there's no way I'll keep at this. To write another 200k, or 400k words without some sort of, at least, private success? Yeah, that's not gonna happen for me.

Duncan McGeary said...

In the time I've known you, if you had written 1000 words a day, you'd have finished a couple of books by now. Or at 500 words a day, a book. So in all the time you're trying to save time you're wasting time. Life is what happens while you're planning your life.

You're making too much of it. You want to hit a homerun first time up at bat and it probably isn't going to happen.

Dave Cline said...

Oh I've written 2-3000 words a day, everyday, just not in a story. (Well, sometimes in a story.) 2 dozen short stories, dozens of blog articles, and hundreds of cogent, thoughtful comments on a hundred different sites. Not to mention 100-1000 lines of code a day... my day job.

Here's a goodreads blog post with lots of comments that seem useful: