Today's guest post features none other than the lovely Tori! She's awesome and wonderful and I basically want to be her BFF and also I'm an awful friend because she totally up and changed to a new blog and it took me probably a few months (okay, five) to notice because I can't get my Google Reader to stop saying 1000+. Ever. No matter how much progress I think I'm making. I got it to zero once, I'll do it again! Maybe. I fail at so many things these days.
Anyway, I love love love this post, mostly because it's like she pulled it out of my very own brain. I've been struggling a lot with my own writing lately, and I've been searching for writing advice (I've gone so far as to subscribe to a daily "Advice to Writers" - that I ACTUALLY READ EVERY DAY). Perhaps when I get home I will write a response piece to this because: YES. THIS.
Gloria Steinem once famously said, "I don't want to write. I want to have written."
That's a lot of what I've been feeling lately. I ache to write, but then when I sit down in front of an empty piece of paper (or computer screen, as the case may be), I feel like my ideas aren't good enough. I want to just be done already, and I want it to be fabulous.
I think part of that is because I don't love what I've been writing lately. I haven't been writing with a plan. I just start going and then suddenly, I have two pages that are complete stream-of-consciousness and make little to no sense, even to me.
So how can I fix this? How can I start planning my writing without feeling like I'm writing an academic paper?I decided to look into how other writers do it, and I found that many of them, unsurprisingly, have some very sage advice.
Kurt Vonnegut: "Start as close to the end as possible."
This is where I fall short. I begin a story with no ending in mind. A character is looking for something, but will she find it? Won't she? I have no idea yet. In fact, I probably won't for the next two hundred pages. (And by the way, HAHA! TWO HUNDRED PAGES! As if I'll ever get that far.) But I need to know. I need to plan. Even if I haven't planned anything else. Even if the remaining plot twists and turns will be organic. I need to know where the story ends up, even if I don't know where it's going.
Henry Miller: "Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."
I'm always nervous when I write. What will people think about when they read this? Should I not use that word? Have I already used it too many times? WHERE IS THIS STORY GOING? But Henry Miller is telling me to relax. Henry Miller is telling me that writing should be fun. And really, it should be. You're creating something that's entirely yours. If it's non-fiction, it's an issue or a story through your eyes. If it's fiction, it's a whole other world than the one you live in. Take sanctuary in the creativity. Let yourself believe that what you're doing is okay, is right, is beautiful.
Jack Kerouac: "Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind."
This is less a piece of advice than it is a reality. I have an idea for a story? Great. Good luck getting it down on paper. That is what Kerouac is saying. That writing is - and should be - a challenge. And it will be. I need to get it down, dislike it, and then fix it. The goal is to make that flow that "exists intact in mind" work just as well on paper. But I can't spend forever rewriting, because then I'll never finish what I start. So I need to learn to write, write, write, FINISH, and then backtrack. As many times as necessary, to make my work as good as possible.
John Steinbeck: "If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another."
This advice is just that: ADVICE. I don't have to take it, you don't have to take it, and neither does anyone else. But there's something to be said about listening to words of wisdom from people who are not just published, but world-renowned. With that said, story writing, as Steinbeck says, is "magic." It's not a recipe, it's not formulaic (though your high school English teacher will surely try to tell you otherwise), and it's individualized. We approach it in a different way, and that's what makes reading and writing fun.
If there's one thing I learned from each of these nuggets of wisdom, it's this: Writing is work. It's not just going to get done without my having to put the effort in, no matter how talented my grandma thinks I am. It requires consistency, and patience, and imagination, and attention to detail. And even though "I want to have written," I'm only going to be able to say I actually have written if I begin by writing.