Saturday, March 12, 2016

Just keep writing...

And why that doesn’t cut it for me

There’s lots of writing advice that sounds simple on the surface, but is often misunderstood and actually opens up some pretty deep discussions at times. “Kill your darlings” and “Write what you know” spring to mind.

Now I’m into drafting a new novel, the dreaded writer’s block is always out there, on the periphery, haunting my efforts. I’ve experienced it before and it’s not fun.

Just want to say, I’m not in that position right now. I’ve just completed a third week staying on or ahead of target, long may it continue.

However, a discussion on Goodreads talked about “Keep writing”, which is often touted as the panacea for writer’s block, and to which I usually respond, “Bollocks it is!” And it got me thinking about the advice, and what writer’s block looks like, and how I’ve got around it or avoided it myself. I’ll come back to the latter in future posts, but ...

First off, the advice itself

What does it mean when people say “Keep writing”? Superficially it seems to suggest keep putting words down on paper and blast your way through the block. That’s the bit that I have trouble with because that just doesn’t work for me. It does work for some people (and good for them - I keep saying the only universal rule in writing is “do what works”, so if it works, it works) just not for me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when I experience writer’s block, it is often a symptom of something deeper. It usually means that I don’t have a clear enough picture of something important, and that is causing a logjam. Logjams are typically not solved by piling on more logs.
But “keep writing” is more nuanced than that. There are many variations on the “keep writing” theme, and my “Aha!” moment was to realize that these variations are quite distinct tools that have all got lumped together under the “keep writing” banner. And on reflection I find I’ve done the variations myself, so perhaps it ain’t all that bad after all.

It can be used to mean...

Develop good writing habits: Not bad advice. However, given that the actual writing part of a novel is only about 10% of the total effort, I prefer to think of it as be professional and keep doing something productive towards your writing goals. Right now for me, yes, that means actual writing. But at other stages of the process it could equally mean research, critiquing, revising, preparing for publication...

Employ one of a range of writing techniques: Some people like to free-write to get their creative juices flowing, and sometimes the “keep writing” advice is given in that kind of vein - write anything, just to get the words flowing. This doesn’t work for me, but I do use a variety of other techniques that involve writing to get me past a blockage. I’ll talk about these in future posts, but suffice it to say, these are used as tools carefully selected from my toolkit to achieve specific results. One thing I don’t do is just write any random stuff for the sake of writing.

Write something else: Sometimes you need to distance yourself from a project before you can get it moving again. Yes, I’ve done this too, so it makes sense to me.

Don’t fret about marketing and write the next book: OK, this doesn’t address writer’s block, but it does speak to the trap we can easily fall into of sucking our time into non-productive efforts.

So, “keep writing” can mean lots of different things, which is probably why it gets so misunderstood. What does it mean to you?


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ian - I agree there's no point in flogging a dead horse (or writing habit) for the sake of it ... get up and do something else - change the routine ... let your mind mull over what comes next - without getting besotted by it.

I can't get enthused by free writing ... but I'm glad to see you're not bogged down, and are progressing along the writerly path .. good luck and cheers Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I take it to mean write anything, as in, if what you're working on isn't flowing, write something else.

Botanist said...

Hilary, you'd be amazed how many people do enthuse over free writing, though, and take the view that I must be doing something wrong or not trying hard enough.

Alex, the way I mean the terms here, "write anything" means just that, not necessarily with an end in mind. Like I might sit down right now and write about what I see out of my window, or compose an ode to the fluff bunnies under my desk. That is quite distinct from "write something else" here, which means move on to another project. Two different tools in the toolkit, with different applications and outcomes.

Pearson Report said...

Hi Ian - I read this late last night on my phone where commenting is such a hassle but I wanted to drop by and let you know I found this to be an interesting post.

I don't "write anything" either, just for the sake of writing something. I'd rather distract myself with some reading, or drawing, or just getting out for a quiet walk.

When I walk I make sure I have my iPhone with and my headphones - not to listen to anything but to record my thoughts, and ideas.

Later, when I get home from my walk I will play back my recording. It's amazing what I pull from my ramblings.

I look forward to subsequent posts which you eluded to.

Take care, and happy writing.

stephen Hayes said...

When I can't think of anything to write I switch to a different form of creativity, like painting, until the urge to write returns.

Botanist said...

Jenny, recording thoughts on your iPhone sounds like a good idea, especially in the "ideas generation" stage of the game.

Stephen, that's another good approach - give the "writing brain" a rest.

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