In my last blog post, I promised to give more tips on how to work with a graphic designer, and I will (I promise), but not in this post. For the last few months, I have been immersed in editing, and my thoughts are not currently focused on graphic design but on writing. In particular, I’ve been struggling with how to stop banging my head against the same old walls and just to get the writing done.
Writers write. That is a truism we’ve all heard, but it encapsulates a gigantic catch. WHAT do writers write? The answer is different for every writer, and implicit within the current cultural expectations attached to writing is the idea that successful writers somehow know what to write. They know what others want to read, what will sell, what is cool, what is erudite, what sounds good. Maybe they do, and maybe they are also just lucky.
As one of the as-yet-unpublished blog contributors for this site, I cannot tell you how successful writers work, or how they know what will or will not be successful to their project. But I can (oh, yes, most definitely I can) tell you what does not lead to successful writing. So I am offering you my current zen-laced, nihilist-inspired approach to writing successfully. I am going to tell you what not to think about when you’re writing.
1. Don’t think about yourself and your life.
To write successful fiction, do not indulge in endless fantasies about what the piece of writing you are working on is going to do for your current state of existence. Dreaming about your perfect life after your WIP is done, published, and has sold millions more copies than J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins combined may be fun, but in my experience it actually is antagonistic to the mindset needed for telling a good story.
A good story is like a dream brought into momentary focus. It is ephemeral, fleeting, perhaps even surreal, but whole and perfect unto itself. During its crystallization (the process of writing) prosaic thoughts that take the writer outside of that coherent whole turn the writing from a story into a tool. This makes the work simply a step towards something mundane (a better life for the author) not an otherworldly destination of its own (a shining jewel of believable characters, delightful interactions, and gripping tensions).
In the best case scenario, if you indulge in ‘successful author fantasies’ too much while writing, your vanity might simply become legible in the work. Little darlings remain unmurdered, useless and bloated scenes are not cut, self-admiration among the characters trumps conflict and tension. In the worst-case scenario, every plot point, character arc, and developmental trajectory becomes manipulated into a self-serving amalgam of disconnected pieces that don’t fit together into a coherent story, but simply shout ‘look at me’. If you want to write a good story, then get yourself out of your own head and let the characters and their needs and desires take over.
2. Don’t think about the Reality Police
If you write fiction, you should know who I mean by ‘reality police.’ They are the ones who tell you that something in your FICTION work is not true or real or accurate. They very unwillingly suspend disbelief. They get all atwitter when movie versions of Jane Austen stories end with a (gasp) real kiss. While watching the Matrix for the first time, they ask “who answered the phone the first time they dialed into the matrix?” They catch anachronisms in historic works, find the flaws in fantasies, poke holes in plots, and identify inconsistencies of any kind.
If you get them in your head while you are writing, you can get derailed. You lose sight of the story and focus on minute details. While there is no insignificant detail in writing, thinking about those details with the reality police in mind can make you doubt yourself. Doubting yourself while writing is crippling.
Don’t think about the uptight nature of possible readers, think about the synthetic, holistic, consistent nature of your story.
3. Don’t think about the industry! the industry!
(Even though I’ve never met Porter in person [and never tried Campari] his tag line is perfect and I’m borrowing it here.)
Here’s the fastest way to end creativity and lose the tenuous hold you might have on the gorgeous will-o-the-wisp which is your perfectly told story: think about the state of the industry and how it is all crashing down (in some form or another) while you write.
I’m not going to go into detail on how many different ways the industry is changing (because Porter’s already done that), but I am going to tell you thinking about it while you write just might be the fastest and most permanent way to lose the tenuous grip your mind has on its dream of story.
The industry, however, is a pervasive bugaboo, and hard to ignore. Thoughts about it are inevitably linked to to trepidatious thoughts of what will happen when you finally type (or keyboard) “The End”?
Well, what will happen when you do that? The nihilist in me embraces the nothingness of that act among all other acts. While reaching the end is an essential step towards success, it is not typing ‘the end’ that brings success to some and not to others. The zen-master in me would contemplate the resultant stack of papers (or pixels) and see its position within a larger universe of interconnected significance. But that interconnectedness alone is not what brings success to some and not to others.
What does bring success? As far as I can tell–being true to the story. And that requires not thinking about anything that is antagonistic to story while you are deep in the midst of writing the thing.
The more enjoyable, real answer to what is the best thing that happens immediately after you type ‘the end’? You get to take a big glass of wine or a big heap of chocolate and find your favorite easy chair or porch rocker. Then you get to sit down, read that big stack of papers, and revel in its ability to become something more–to become that fabulous, tenuous, coherent dream, called story.
How about you? Is there anything you found it’s better not to think about while you are writing?
Photo from Now & Zen