Unfortunately, for all my “revelations,” I can’t really point to any one thing, one trick, that made me able to finish a draft. I did come up with a shift in my perspective of the project—making it YA, for some reason, made it start to come together—but that didn’t change that much about the story… So it wouldn’t work for every story, I don’t think.
But a few mindsets that I’ve always tried to cultivate but seemed to actually get this time around did help—and that’s what I’m going to share today.
Writing in a Bubble
This mindset comes in at the level of the “idea,” and it’s all about not caring what other people think. Easier said than done, I know, but I finally just stopped caring so much. The idea may be unoriginal, even a knock-off—who cares? It’s not illegal, and with enough of my own creativity, it’s not even immoral; give me a quill and call me Shakespeare (I am in no way comparing myself to Shakespeare…).
The mindset of writing in a “bubble” means it’s just you and the writing, and no one else. Think that plot twist is obvious? Write it anyway. Think that character is a bit familiar? Go for it.
I intend to try and keep up this mindset with every new project, writing whatever I want. What happens after I write it, who knows—with this way of thinking, it is quite possible I’ll write things that other people just won’t like, or that won’t really be publishable. I’ll either self-publish, put it up online for free, or keep it for my own enjoyment.
The key is to keep writing, and to try and have as much fun as possible doing so. And that means writing those ideas that… you know aren’t great. Vampire high school love story? Have a blast! And worry about other people after it’s done. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot along the way.
I’m pretty sure this is a quote somewhere, but basically—the key to writing at all is the ability to write badly. It sounds counterintuitive, and trying to explain it to people who don’t write is nearly impossible, but I’ve discovered that it’s absolutely true.
I wrote in one of my posts before the break that there’s a difference between accepting bad writing at a vocab and syntax level, and accepting bad writing at a plot and character level—I still stand by this. But whether it’s an awkward transition, a reliance on writing tics, an ill-formed character, or a too-convenient plot point, you just have to keep writing. And rely on the revision that will come along to fix it.
It created, for me at least, a sort of cognitive dissonance during the drafting process. On the one side of my brain, I was thinking and planning and trying to write the best that I could, because that’s what any creator sets out to do, I think. But on the other side of my brain, I was forcing myself to accept my own flaws and shortcomings, to push past the obviously bad stuff, to just keep creating crap. Both processes were working simultaneously, and holding them both in my head was an almost constant tension.
But for the first time, I could push past the doubts—steamroll past them, in fact, because I knew revision was coming. I just had to keep going.
This final mindset is one I haven’t quite captured yet, and I hope the use of the word “Zen” isn’t appropriative, but it perfectly suggests what I mean. That state of calm acceptance, of patience, of surrendering to forces greater than oneself—it can make writing a lot more fun and easy. I think it’s a part of the other two mindsets, but it also has a strength all its own.
The more writing advice you read, the more lists online of “do this” and “don’t do this” and “100 clichés to avoid” and so on, the tighter and narrower your writing muse gets. There are more walls caging it in, more proscribed steps to follow, more harsh eyes watching and criticizing… even before you’ve written a word. I think the key to writing (and not just thinking about writing) is the ability to step back from all that, to accept the creativity you have naturally churning inside of you, and to embrace all of that creativity’s imperfections.
Now, in revision (which I have yet to accomplish, so I don’t know), I would imagine it’s okay to let more of those voices in. Think about making a better story, more original, better written…
But the way I learned to think of drafting is like pottery—and the first draft is just making the clay. Now, any potter will say that all their work comes after the clay is made (given that potters don’t make the clay themselves)—but could they do any of their work without the clay itself? The first draft is a raw lump of clay, misshapen, inelegant, and not done. Then revision and subsequent drafts shape the clay, fire the clay, paint the clay, and create the final artwork.
But you can’t do any of that without the clay—the first draft. So breathe deep, have fun, push through the doubts, write badly, and write for yourself—and then fix it all later.
At least, that’s what I think now, before “fixing it all later.” We’ll see how that stage goes. 🙂