I was at this workshop the other day with a writer. There were a lot of people there, like thirty, all other writers or maybe just people who liked the writer who was running the workshop. We did a bunch of exercises that were really cool and at the end the writer opened herself up to questions. I’d never read any of her books, but even if I had (which I have now) I’m not sure what I would ask her. So I basically just listened to these other people ask questions. It was a bunch of these earnest writerly types, leaning forward in their chairs, pens poised over their paper that asked things like: what do you do when you’re not writing? Who do you spend your time with? Where do you travel? The way they asked the questions was as though they were expecting a secret formula, the formula to being a good writer. Like if they followed the prescription of her life, did the things she did, they would somehow be able to achieve her level of artistic genius. It made me feel weird, after all she had given us through the workshop it made me feel like a superstitious monkey listening to her answers as though they mattered. The writer hesitated when answering the questions and I couldn’t blame her, they had nothing to do with actual writing.
It got me to thinking about books about writing which I firmly believe are mostly a load of crap. I have read a bunch and most of the time if I’m lucky I believe in half of what the writer is saying or suggesting and even then it’s something I already do or have done. I feel like, in a way, books about writing are a cop out, like they are a way for struggling writers to feel like they are accomplishing something when what they should actually be doing is writing.
All of this, of course, led me to consider this blog.
This is a blog about writing and sometimes I say stuff about how one should go about doing that thing I love so much.
So by writing about writing am I just another bullshitting writer leading superstitious monkeys to believe there is a magic key to writing? Maybe.
All that being said I have something to say about writing. Not about time of day or location or the type of pen one should use, but an actual example of something that got me out of a jam and might be helpful to someone one day.
It’s an example of something writers say to do all the time: telling the truth.
So I’m writing this book and the goal so far was to get my protagonist back home. I have other goals for her once she’s there, but I wasn’t, at the time, exactly sure how the heck to achieve those goals and it was driving me nuts. I got the girl home, she went to sleep and when she woke up the next day I had no idea what the hell to do with her.
When I’m stuck in a book or a story it’s pretty much the end of the world. I get restless and annoyed, followed by bouts of pathetic despondence which probably makes me a little unpleasant to be around.
So I flailed and flopped around for a couple of days, quite depressed frankly while my character sat in bed waiting for me to make up my damn mind and do something with her.
Then it dawned on me, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do, she didn’t either. So I opened the document and wrote something like: Day 6 – I didn’t know what the hell to do.
From there on it just came to me, once I had been honest to myself and on the page my imagination said: ‘way to be honest!’, and allowed me to have more freedom than before. Things are coming along quickly now and I am pleased with the results.
So this isn’t a magic trick and it won’t teach you to be a better writer, but it might just help you loosen up a little if you are in a jam and get the juices flowing.
Admitting you don’t know what the hell you’re doing is liberating, it allows anything to become possible. Trying to act like I’m in control all the time can get me pretty worked up and lead me to forget that sometimes it’s okay to just admit whatever it is you need to admin and go from there.