Monday, April 11, 2016

Hope for the Three Stages of Writerly Hardships--

Writing is hard. Or rather, it can be hard. That's the thing about writing: it can be an exhilarating ride that sweeps you up in it and carries you away to other worlds, or it can be something that you do to pay the bills, get the desired grade, or just to be able to say you did it.

I will try to help the three main stages of writerly hardships here. That is, the person who just wants to write, the person who's flailing in the depths of their rough draft, and the person who has finished the rough draft but wondering where the heck to go from here. Chances are, you're in one of these categories right now.

Let me stop right there and say this: if you find yourself sitting at the keyboard day after day after day, doggedly punching those keys and making words form sentences, if it is a drudgery for you, then this is probably not for you. BUT: if you have been on a Writerly Roller Coaster, loving the excellent highs, struggling not to lose your lunch as you plummet into the unimaginable depths of writer lowness, then stick around and see what you can see.

That said, let's get on with it.

For The Person Who Just Wants to Write: So. You want to write. Congratulations! You have now joined the 87% of other Americans who want to do the same. But why should you stay with majority, when you can be the person who actually writes?

How do you do that? Simple. You write. 

Now, I know what you're thinking: It's not that simple, because [Enter Lame Excuse Here]! But I am here to tell you, it is that simple. You are a newbie writer; don't expect greatness. You are not J.K. Rowling, you're not Charles Dickens. You're just not. At least, not yet. I might even go so far as to say don't expect mediocrity. Let me regale you for a second.

I wrote my first complete novel (really it was more a novella, but even that is a stretch.) when I was twelve. When I was writing it, I was swept up in this grand adventure, sure that someday this would be a bestseller. I mean, it felt so awesome to put the words on to the paper, to watch the stack of lined paper grow and grow (yes, I used to write everything longhand). I just knew I could do this! And then I put it away and began my next story. That story (which I named Shattered) is such utter garbage that I have trouble reading it now. It's full of writing no-nos and author faux pas that I can't even stomach the darned thing. But do I regret it? Of course not. I learned so so so much when writing this crappy little story written on mini legal pads in my nearly illegible handwriting.

I went on to write several more stories, each a little longer and a little better. By the time I was fourteen, I had begun my first series. (Though I only ever wrote the first book of it.) I read as much as I wrote, if not more, and I was always improving. Now, I'm still not the greatest author in the world, but I have learned so much from those first years, and each year brings something new to my writerly mind. I'm always learning, and you can too. So get out there, get reading, and just write. And if it's crappy, oh well. At least you did something. And if you keep at it, maybe someday your own books will be in print.

So, all that summed up? Don't be afraid to do badly. It's going to happen. So just read everything you can, and write just as much as you read. You'll get there, one word at a time.

For The Person Flailing Around in the First Draft: You have this idea, and it's burning in your mind, itching to come out, to be this wonderful, splendid, beautifully crafted story that will be utterly gripping and intoxicatingly exciting. But when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), it all started to crash and burn.

Nothing is coming out the way you wanted it to, you're not as wonderful as you hoped, and with each page you write, you just want to get up. Your story is going nowhere.

Let me stop you write there (yes, pun intended). And let me share a quote with you from Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: "Here's something else-- if no one says to you: "Oh, Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the darn story."

There is a reason that the first draft of a story is also called a rough draft. Because it's rough. All it'll be is words on the page, or, as I've said before, a hunk of clay on the table. It's not going to come out as your ornate clay chalice on the first go. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start with something, so stop whining and get to work. Don't worry if your prose is less than ideal, or if your dialogue is unbelievable. Just get down to it and tell the darn story. That is your main job. Cleaning it up and making it smell nice comes later, once you have your words on a page. But you can't fix it if there's nothing to fix, so keep at it, tell the story, and then move on to the next step-- revision. 

You can do it-- I know you can, and I also know that you know you can. So what are you waiting for?

For The Person Struggling With Revision: You have gotten over the fear of writing, and you have written your rough draft. You have picked up that hunk of clay and moved it to your work table. And now your are trying to turn this blob of words into something readable, something that is intriguing and believable and original. But you don't know the first thing about sculpting words on a page. You're losing steam, and fast. If you keep this up, soon you'll have no more momentum at all. So you scream at the top of your lungs, Help! 

Well, help is here.

Revision can be the most challenging part of writing a piece of fiction, or even non-fiction for that matter. You have a story, you have the clay, you have to tools, but you don't know what to do first, or how to keep going. Let me encourage you: You are not alone. Revision is universally acknowledged as the hardest part. Why? Because you can't just write at break-neck speed anymore and ignore the typos. You can't just close the door and have alone time with your novel. And that is difficult. You have entered a new stage in your relationship with that novel of yours. You have gone from creator to editor.

So, what should you do?

The first thing to do is to sit down and read your novel. I would recommend reading it in one sitting if you can, as to get the feel of the whole thing and pick up on inconsistencies more easily. Go ahead and fix the misspellings and grammatical errors. And take notes on the storyline: what's clear and what's not, what need's cleaning up, and what needs to go. Then sit back and pat yourself on the back: you have just finished another draft.

After that, you move on, notes in hand. Look at each scene closely, determining whether or not it is necessary to the story. If it's not, cut it, if it is, look at it again to clean it up. Take out as many adverbs as you can (they're really not necessary), and see what you can do to make it pick up pace. When you have done that, move on to the next scene and do the same.

Now, some of you are pulling out your hair because you are stuck in the revision process, and the tunnel is long and dark, you're tired of stumbling around, and you just can't see the light at the end. I understand. I was there myself not too long ago. So let me give you some advice: this is when you get crafty. You become editor-turned-creative. You're in a dark tunnel? Well, look-a-there, you just found some shiny crystals hanging from the ceiling that glow. You have light! You may not be able to see the end of the tunnel, but who says you can't see that bit that's just in front of you? And if you can see that, then you can move forward, inch by inch, until the end is nigh.

Be creative, let your imagination go wild, and tell your story. Don't let dialogue or description or prose or anything else get in the way of what is most important: Story.

And then, bearing that in mind, with fresh eyes and renewed hearts, remind yourself why you are telling this story. Why you decided to write this one. Why did you fall a little bit in love with these characters? Why should the world have this story?

Only you can tell.

So get out there, get writing, and tell your story.

And, as always, Happy Writing!

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