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Feel Good and Fail Big

feel good fail big [1]Last time we talked about the writing process from a tyro’s point of view. Let’s continue with that train of thought, and see if we can continue to build a coherent (and at least cautiously optimistic) view of the writer’s life.

Writing has been described as a battlefield, and the metaphor may be apt, but this battlefield is fluid; you never know where you’re going to make your breakthroughs. In fact, given that creativity often involves taking yourself by surprise, you can expect to make breakthroughs in unexpected places. Especially if you’re expecting them.

Expecting the unexpected? Is that what being a writer is about?

In a sense. There is a phenomenon that’s common to writers, the feeling or sensation that washes over us when we see our writing take on a life of its own. You bury yourself in a writing project for an hour or a day or a week or a month or a year, and later you look back and wonder where did all that come from? That’s the magic of writing: I know that I wrote all the words, but they don’t all seem to have been written by me.

There’s either a logical or a mystical explanation for this. Logic tells us that if we work on a project long enough with our conscious mind, eventually our subconscious mind starts to pitch in too. Mystics tell us that creativity is bestowed upon us by higher powers, and by writing we put ourselves into a place where higher powers can act upon us. Which explanation is right? Doesn’t matter. Choose either one you like.

They serve the same end. If you take the logical approach, you’re going to spend more time writing in order to derive more benefit from your subconscious partner. If you take the mystical approach, then you’ll spend more time writing as a means of positioning yourself to receive the gifts that higher powers bestow.

Either way you win, because either way you’re going to spend more time writing. But there’s a catch: To be a well-informed and confident writer, you have to write a lot, yet to write a lot, you have to be a well-informed and confident writer. How do we resolve this paradox? How can we work toward being the kind of writers we want to be in advance of having the necessary craft and craftsmanship to move forward. How do we build strength?

Gradually. By degrees.

You start by pretending that you’re not completely ignorant and ill-informed, and move your writing forward a tiny bit on that basis. Having moved your writing forward a tiny bit, you now have a little more writing experience to draw on. This experience gives you new information and new confidence, which you feed right back into your work. Additional writing gives you more experience of yourself as someone who can do a writer’s job, and also gives you more skills for doing that job. Each time you confront recurring writers’ problems (motivation problems, story problems, logic problems, detail problems – oh, that list is long) you’re incrementally better equipped than you were last time through. Eventually the battle starts to go your way.

Writing alone is not enough, though. You also have to study your writing, examine your process, and experience yourself as the writer you are and the writer you’re becoming. This wedding of write more and study your process moves you toward a well-informed and confident place. A place where a writer can get some real work done.

Take a long view of the battle. You won’t win it overnight. You may not win at all. You might never close the gap between the reality of your writer’s life and the fantasies you create and sustain in its name. That’s all right. You’ll still improve – in ways you can’t even imagine now – just by writing, and by watching yourself write. You’ll get better; it’s a given.

Life is long. If you’re still drawing breath, you still have time to be the kind of writer you want to be. Here’s the kind of writer I want to be: a better writer today than I was yesterday. That’s a reachable goal. [pullquote] Here’s the kind of writer I want to be: a better writer today than I was yesterday. That’s a reachable goal.[/pullquote]That’s something I can do. You can too. It happens automatically if we just keep writing. Well hell, that’s all we really want to do anyway. All that could possible stop us is lack of capability or lack of nerve. And these are two problems that the mere, sheer act of writing solves as well. Do anything long enough and you’re not a rookie anymore. Skill builds confidence and confidence builds skill. Unless you feel you already have too much of both, strive to add to your store.

Words on the page.

Words on the page.

Words on the page.

It always all comes down to that: words on the flipping page.

I feel like I’m trying to sell you a diet supplement, guaranteed to shed pounds! It just can’t be that simple. But it is. Really, it is. If you want to get better, write more. If you want to get flipping better, write flipping more. Take small steps, and take as many as you can. It doesn’t take forever to get good, but it does take time, and it does take work. If you imagined that you didn’t intend to harvest a single word you wrote for even five years, you’d be giving yourself a decent apprenticeship to serve. You’d certainly keep your expectations in check.

But whose got that kind of patience? I want the harvest right now. I want to be good from the start. Okay, fine, but contemplate this: You don’t have to be good to get good. Choose to learn. Choose to have patience. Choose to serve the writer you’ll be in the long run. That’s a place where a writer can stand, and that’s a battle a writer can win. The secret to writing success, it seems to me, is just to feel good and fail big. Everything follows from that.

What are your tools for morale boosting? How do you bootstrap yourself out of a writer’s funk and back into a productive state of mind?

About John Vorhaus [2]

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!