I’ve been pondering a lot this week on hangups with writing. I’m not just talking procrastination, though that’s part of it. I mean that sort of sneering aversion we get when we have that thought, “I should be writing,” when the very idea of it makes us grumpy and resentful and we avoid it as though it were right up there with shivs under our nails and taking out the garbage.
No? Just me?
Man, I struggle with this all the time. It’s why I (confession) haven’t yet made writing consistently a habit yet, despite years of wanting to. It’s why I have one draft that I haven’t touched since I “finished” it and another draft that only needs a few more solid days of writing to be complete….and yet has sat, incomplete, for over a year.
I get in my head. Do you? I look at my words and think no one has ever used words as terribly as I’m using them, and also why is this scene that’s awesome in my head coming out horrifically in print? and maybe a little bit of why am I even trying to do this when clearly I’m ghastly at writing?
Maggie Stiefvater unintentionally gave me a kick in the pants to change my mindset about these things. I’ve been reading her book The Raven Boys for the last week or so, which is mostly irrelevant except that she’s great and because as I was reading I noticed the words she used. You see, they were the same words I use. Sometimes even very similar sentences. And for some reason that struck me, because the only difference between her words and my words were that hers had the patience of careful crafting behind them. You can almost see how fearlessly she puts them on the page, how sharp the corners of her smile are as she arranges them in just the right order to haunt you or hurt you or surprise you.
Her words gather themselves up in a blanket and settle in comfortably together with a nice cup of cocoa. Mine are cold and uncomfortable on a too-stiff couch and have just realized that—bonus—they forgot to put on socks. But I can change that. I have the building blocks. I have the sand for my sandbox (as Shannon Hale calls her first drafts). I have the words. I just need to put them in the right order. I need to give them their cozy blanket.
To write well you have to be sort of careless. That is, you have to care less. Care less about what someone else would think about your ill-crafted sentences, care less about whether your theme is edgy or pertinent or thoughtful enough, care less about whether this will be the story that gets you published. In the end, if you’re not writing for yourself, then what’s the point?
Write what speaks the truth to you. Write what makes your heart beat faster and twists your stomach and makes you type harder because you are just as furious as your characters. Do you like flowers and couples that hold hands and happy endings? Write that! Love gothic horror and rainy nights and mysteriously empty graves? Write that. Don’t be ashamed because you think a certain demographic will think it’s lame or silly or too intense. I personally enjoy character-driven stories full of romance and mistakes and apologies and growth. Some people think that’s super boring, and that’s something I need to Care Less about. Because I don’t think it’s boring. I love it.
You are your most important audience, and if you write what you love—well, it will still be hard. But at least it will be fun-hard.
In the end, you have to write like you’re not afraid of the critics.
It’s been said so many times, but it’s just so important to show up. Sit down, type or scribble or paint the words. You’ll get discouraged by your first drafts because they won’t seem good—they probably aren’t—and it’s taking so long just to get this not-so-good stuff down. It’s okay. The words are there, they just need to be rearranged.
It takes time.
It takes time.
It takes so much time.
Don’t be afraid. Take the time, write the things you love, and do it fearlessly.
Here’s the thing about being a writer, or a musician, or an artist, or any sort of creative person. The ones who make it are the ones who make themselves do it. They’re the ones who practice even when it seems like they aren’t getting any better. They’re the ones who open up their work-in-progress when their friends are going out hey-are-you-coming-with-us — even if they know that this novel is not the one that will be good enough to get published, because they know that practice is the only way to get to the one that will be good enough to be published.
-Maggie Stiefvater (again, because she just gets it done!)
Here’s to writing. We got this.