Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Writing: How It Works For Me

My dear friend John wrote about his writing process recently.  He talked about how he gets all these ideas, all hours of the day, from conversations, from books, from tv or video games, from everywhere and he just wrote them.  Reading this, I got this sensation of needing to express these ideas.  Like they were just bursting out of him and he felt pressured- like a volcanic buildup- if he didn’t get them out.  So he did, every day, every time.  No genius, no brilliant, glistening epiphanies- just writing.  It seemed so simple.

And I felt so angry from reading that because I related to it in so many ways.  A billion ideas in my head: every minute of everyday about just about everything.  I have that.  And honestly the ideas, the ideas themselves, can be just as creative, interesting and story worthy.  But I always, always shut myself down before I can write them.

That inner critic of mine is like a God with a huge, booming voice that’s raining down judgment on all of my fragile little ideas.  And unlike Noah, I don’t have an arc.  So all my tiny little (possibly brilliant) ideas drown as I conclude that it has been done, that it is stupid, that there is no way I could possibly execute it well enough because I don’t have the talent.

It’s a full-blown superiority complex- the belief that every other writer is better than me, more innately talented, more educated about the process of writing and therefore more able to translate their ideas into these amazing pieces I read every Friday.  And I try to console myself by saying that I’m just not a writer like they are- I’m just not meant to write.  But I still have all those ideas.

It’s my own form of OCD.  I obsess about writing thinking that I should write, that I need to write, that that brilliant idea I just had needs to be written.  I feel compulsed to write.  So I do.  And then, inevitably, the story is not good enough.  That brilliant idea is now a crappy piece of writing nowhere near as amazing as it seemed when it was still just in my head.  And I feel horrible; I hate myself, I hate writing, I hate everything.  So I close my computer in disgust.  And sometimes this leads me to withdraw completely from everything- I stop reading the new flash Friday pieces, I stop reading John’s blog or any of the others I follow, I avoid twitter and even my computer for sometimes weeks or even months at a time.

But the obsessions build, the compulsion to write grows, I feel guilty for having not written for so long.  So I do.  And the process repeats itself.

But here’s the thing- and here what John’s post reveled to me- those ideas are still ideas.  They’re not stupid, or over-done, or any of the others things I may conclude they are.  The only difference is that John and Tony and Icy and Chuck and Adam and Danielle and Helen and all those other amazing writers WRITE.  That’s it.  It isn’t a gift from the Gods, or a muse that has chosen to gift them with brilliant insights on a regular basis, or intelligence so far superior to mine that my feeble little mind can’t even comprehend it.  It’s the simple act of writing.  And if I wrote my ideas like they do, I could be just as good as I think they are.  Not to myself, obviously.  But to someone else reading my blog.  (I know, I know- you’re thinking “Haven’t you been told this since the dawn of time?”  But that’s how insight works- you have to get it the hard way.)

My favorite band in the world is Ben Folds Five.  Do you know them?  If not, you absolutely MUST watch this:
Yes, that is Red sitting on Ben Folds' shoulder.

That song is from their new reunion album and it’s one of my favorite songs they’ve ever done (And I got to see them do it live *sqee!*).  And I’m sure you can see why it relates. 

Because if I can write that idea down, and if I can hold back the deluge of judgment just long enough to hit the post button- people tend to like what I wrote.  Even if it isn’t that brilliant, sparkling, wonderful idea it had been in my head.  It’s still ok.  Maybe even good.  Maybe even great on very rare occasions.  And because it exists- because I didn’t drown it in criticism- I’m better off for it.  Do it anyway.  That’s what’s been working for me lately.

So, towards that end, I’m making a determined effort to expose myself more.  Expose my writing more, expose myself to more writing prompts, get connected to other writers and other writing communities.  And so here I am, writing about writing for #amwriting.  And it is my hope that by letting the world in on my madness I’ll see how right I am by seeing that you all relate to what I’ve shared.  Because lately I’ve been realizing how not alone I am in this struggle, and it’s felt really good.


  1. Okay, here's the trick. It's not only about writing: it's about giving yourself permission to write CRAP.

    That's what revision is for. Molding the crap into something beautiful.

    Oh, and most of what I write in my head never comes onto the page nearly as well. Sometimes, it's better. Usually, it's different in a way that satisfies. Hang in there. That first step is the hardest.

    1. Thanks, Susan! People like you are what helps me get better!

  2. In addition to coming up with a story that people simply like on the first or second draft, frequently caving into your inclinations and writing often begins to develop the wide skills. I agree with Stephen King that it's too similar to a muscle that you strengthen with usage and grow familiar with apply.

    I'm glad this registered for you. I know exactly what you mean about reading or hearing advice over and over, acknowledging it logically but not intuitively or emotionally. It's a confusticating process.

    1. It kills me because you've said this exact thing to me yourself many, many times- and even you were echoing others who had said it before. I don't know why so many lessons require you to be beaten over the head before getting them. But, better late then never!

  3. I'm happy to be a good example. The big conceptual leap forward for me was in accepting that there were so many writers who were better than me, and that there would ALWAYS be writers better than me. Instead of reading some breathtaking piece of prose and throwing down my pen in disgust, I'd nod humbly and say, "Yep. That's how it's done. Never gonna hit THAT mark." I'd concede the higher ground to the better writers and content myself with the lower fields of play.

    It's an obstacle that cropped up recently, long after I thought I'd put it to rest. I found myself stressing because my writing wasn't THE BEST THING EVER. When I recovered some humility and perspective, I got back the pleasure of writing.

    1. That's pretty much EXACTLY what's historically happened to me- the throwing down my pen in disgust thing. It's great to know that someone who I think it brilliant experiences the same and to hope that we can both get better at letting that go in order to write ourselves, flawed as we are.

  4. First of all, I'm flattered to be on your list. Thank you so much. Second, I struggle with the exact same thing, especially when it comes to those writers you listed above. I'll never be able to write like them, but that's okay because I write like me and that took me a long time to figure out.

    I was in the same place as you a few months ago. I posted almost no flash from October to January because I felt like if what I was writing wasn't mind blowing than it wasn't worth writing. Like John said above, it's the daily exercise that helps. I committed to writing every day in 2013. It doesn't have to be something I will share and sometimes it's just 60 seconds on, but I'm wriing SOMETHING every single day.

    Some are total crap, but that's okay because I'm writing for me. Of everything I've written in the last 49 days, only three (maybe four) are flashes I would share. And that's okay. You have to give yourself permission to suck (another thing I'd heard over and over and never sunk in until recently). I thought it was better to leave a blank page than to write something that wouldn't measure up and that's not the case. It's always better to write.

  5. Hey there! Came over from when you commented on my blog - thank you for that!

    So, I have the same problem as you (ish). I often stop myself from writing because I think people have done it better, or rather, I will write and write and write and then not even try to edit or publish because I tell myself that it's crap and everyone's already done it better.. but you and I and everyone else, we need to stop that.

    I stole my new motto and I think you should steal it with me: I CAN'T DO THIS BUT I'M DOING IT ANYWAY!!!

    Good luck with your writing. I'll be baaaaaack!


Thank you for your comment! I will love it and hug it and pet it and call it George. Or, you know, just read and reply to it. But still- you rock!