I interrupt this blog’s eternal silence to bring you two bits of writing advice that are the only bits of writing advice you’ll ever need. This advice is nothing new or groundbreaking, but it’s what helps me navigate my way through the maddening world of being a writer, so maybe it will help you.
1) Do what works for you no matter what anyone else says.
I, for example, am a pantser. Or, if you’re feeling particularly charitable, a discovery writer. What that means is that my first drafts are unholy messes of contradictions, poorly written sentences, and plots that never really start to make sense until I type The End. But that’s okay. Because for me, the hurdle is finishing a draft. Once I have that framework in place, I can tear it down, rearrange it, put some spackle here, take a sledgehammer there, set the whole thing on fire, or otherwise rewrite every scene from scratch. What being a pantser really means is that you’re a reviser. Yes, everyone revises, even plotters. But plotters, in theory, will have less revising to do once they have a complete draft. As a pantser, however, my strength, and my clarity of thought, lies in revising.
Does that mean I never plot? Of course not. There’s probably more plotting in my process than I realize; I always have some idea about character arcs or where the plot might be going, I just don’t outline it all beforehand. I do write copious notes to myself in yellow legal pads, though, notes which I rarely go back and look at. I think that’s just my way of decluttering my brain. Am I suggesting you don’t attempt plotting? Of course not. Try it! You might like it. But if you don’t, if you just want to discovery write to your heart’s content, then that’s what you should do.
Next up: daily word counts and writing every day. I used to shoot for 2K words a day. On a good day, I could pull off 1K words/hour. I felt like a failure if I didn’t hit my goal. But the thing is, more often than not they were crap words. Oh, there were some lines here or there that I liked, but on the whole it was all stuff that needed to be completely rewritten. I took me a while to realize I was writing for the word count, not the words. So I turned off the word counter, and I’ve been happy ever since. Granted, I’m still conscious of my overall word count. But when I sit down to write, my goal is simply to write, whether I manage 300 or 3K words.
As for the edict that you should write every day? It’s a ridiculous edict. Yes, when I’m actively drafting, I try not to skip a day. But sometimes I do. Hell, sometimes I skip several. And that’s okay. Seriously. It really is. See, sometimes this thing called Life (which in my case involves being a stay-at-home dad) decides you don’t have time to write on a given day. Such is, well, life. I always feel guilty when I miss a day, as though that one day was the last chance I had to finish the draft. But that’s stupid. The fact is, it’s good to take a break now and then. It helps clear your mind, for one thing, on top of giving you a chance to recharge. Nothing will hurt your draft more than burning yourself out. Plus, you don’t suddenly lose the ability to write just because you took a day, a week, even a month off. Sure, it might take you a couple days to get back into the swing of things, but that’s more a question of making yourself sit down and, you know, write. Your writing chops are always there, they just might need a little coaxing. Or, in my case, a swift kick in the ass.
All of which brings me to my second bit of advice.
2) Trust your gut.
This is inextricably linked to everything I’ve already said. You need to do what works for you. Study up on methods, learn the ins and outs of arcs and structuring, pants or plot, shoot for a specific word count or simply putting any words down on any given day. But do what works for you.
Trusting your gut also means learning not to ignore the itch in the back of your mind when you’ve written something you know isn’t quite right.
When I wrote my first book, a CP called me out for avoiding payoff. He could tell I’d written around something because it was hard, and he was right. Readers can tell when you take the easy route rather than the right route. His advice has stuck with me ever since. And yet, I still do it, and it bites me in the ass in the form of total scene or chapter rewrites every single time.
What happens is, I’ll write something, think of another option, but ignore that second possibility. Why? Because the second possibility is always tougher to pull off. For me, that is 100% a sign it’s what I need to write. And yet, a lot of times, I’ll convince myself that such and such workaround will address the issue.
It never does.
In those instances, I always wind up going back and writing the harder thing. And you know what? Every single time, the scene is better for it. Now, I’m not talking about any old stray idea that wanders into your brain as you sit there deciding whether you can afford a new laptop if you throw the one you have into oncoming traffic. What I’m talking about are ideas that you instantly know sound cool, make total sense within the framework of your story, and would take that particular scene from a 5/10 to a 9/10.
So, when you get that feeling that something’s not quite right, it usually isn’t. Don’t ignore it. Trust your gut.
Well, there you have it. The advice that I as a writer try to live by. Hopefully it gives you some peace of mind. Do what’s right for you, trust your gut, and ignore the people telling you you’re doing it wrong. You’ve got this. Now go write.
I now return this blog to its regularly scheduled state of inactivity.