So I was in London, riding on the Underground, when my curiosity required that I pick up a free newspaper on offer. In it I found the ad you see to the left. And it just cracked me up. They make writing sound so easy! All you have to do is start any time, have fun and make money. Gosh, I wonder why everyone doesn’t do it!
Anyway, the ad put me in mind of something called “the Whimsy Manifesto,” which I laid out a few years ago in a little book called How To Write Good. As it resonates of the questions that you and I face every day – why and how to be a writer – I thought I’d share it with you here.
As I grow as a writer, I think more and more that whimsy is one of the strongest cards I can play. I’m not talking about funny writing, but rather a writer’s playfulness – her willingness to make choices. Like my choice just here to make she the default pronoun for this book. Choice is made. I don’t second guess. I move on. As a writing strategy, it’s a pretty darn useful one, so let’s put it on a line by itself.
Choice is made. Don’t second guess. Move on.
I had an idea to write a book called How to Write Good. I thought that the title might be sexy and alluring to a certain type of writer, one already predisposed to appreciate whimsy. I thought I could show how to use whimsy as a tool to write better.
But let’s be careful about the word “better.” Let’s be sure we know what we mean by that. To me, in this context, better is largely just faster. I consider myself a “better” writer when my process is more efficient, when I’m getting more writing done. I don’t consider myself a “better” writer when I’m sitting there staring at the blank page. That’s when I consider myself a worse writer, or worse, no writer. That’s always the point I want to get past. And whimsy is a tool I use there. Why? Because whimsy suspends value judgments. Whimsy says that any choice is a good choice. Whimsy explores ideas just for fun. Whimsy doesn’t care about broken bits of writing or storytelling. Or grammar. Or syntax. Or complete sentences. Whimsy plans to fix everything later. Whimsy, out of sheer whimsy, thinks of as many ways as it can to express whimsy. Whimsy knows there’s more than one path through story. Whimsy knows the secret of how to write good.
Here it is.
Fail on the page. And fail on the page. And fail on the page. Let whimsy help you. Let whimsy validate any choice you make, because any choice you make keeps you moving forward on the page. You know (because whimsy tells you) that you’ll definitely be going back to fix things later, but that’s not your job right now. Right now your job is exactly this simple:
Keep failing. Then fail some more. And some more after that. Then guess what? Soon you’ll start failing less. Why? Because you’ll be improving your process. Driven by whimsy, your choices will start coming easier and faster. Now you’re saving all the time you used to waste second-guessing yourself, and investing that time in writing instead. You’re pushing that text out onto the page and of course with each new sentence you write, writing sentences is something you’re gonna get better at doing.
And see what a hash I made of that sentence? That’s it – that’s the whimsy. That’s me not caring if I make a fool of myself on the page. Go to school on that. It’s so great to be a writer who doesn’t fear to be a fool.
I think I know where you’re at now. You’re not as productive as you want to be. Not as prolific. Not as at ease with your craft. Not yet its master, for sure. In the back of your mind you hear a panicked little voice that clamors, “I’m falling behind in my existence!” How do I know you hear that voice? Because I hear it all the time! I’ve heard it all my life. I experience it as the gap between the writer I am and the writer I want to be. I’m furiously interested in closing that gap. You are, too, I know, and here’s the thing I want to tell you. You will close the gap. I have. Not all the way. But some. And consistently more and more over time.
When I started my so-called “writing” so-called “career,” I couldn’t write for fifteen minutes at a time without falling apart. Fear retarded my growth, impeded my progress, stopped me cold. Day in and day out, I had this weird practice of not-writing, of doing everything I could think of except putting words on the page. I was simply too afraid to put words on the page, too afraid to commit to my choices, any choices at all. I was always afraid that I’d make the wrong ones. I hadn’t yet learned this stunning truth:
In writing, there are no wrong choices.
Muse upon that for a second. Decide for yourself if you think it’s true. If you happen not to think so, I would here ask you to pretend otherwise. Imagine that it’s true and see what impact that new point of view has on how you approach your work. I suspect it will make you more prolific and productive, simply because you won’t fear being wrong. Be wrong. Be willfully, delightedly, stupidly wrong. Do it on purpose, for the sake of strategic gain. Feel how it helps you close the gap between the writer you are and the one you want to be. Be free. Have fun. Let your whimsy be your guide. That’s the Whimsy Manifesto.[pullquote]Be free. Have fun. Let your whimsy be your guide. That’s the Whimsy Manifesto.[/pullquote]
What’s your Whimsy Manifesto? What steps do you take to set your writing free? When your ferocious editor is screaming in your ear and grinding your process to a halt, what tricks do you use to get unenhalted again? (And yes unenhalted is a word. Whimsy says so, and so there.)