Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG January 2017

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets on the first Wednesday of every month.  And the first Wednesday of every new year!  (Happy New Year!)

What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?

My answer is going to be pretty ironic, because the ISWG email this question was included in also featured an article that directly contradicts what I'm about to say:

Don't write every day!  I mean, if you're doing something like NaNoWriMo, maybe this doesn't apply (although it still can), but seriously, the worst writing you'll ever do is if you push yourself to write for the sake of writing.

I would argue that reading every day is far more important than writing every day.  Reading is the writer's main tool of improvement.  Of course, this is pointless if all you ever do is read bad writing.  Challenge yourself: read the stuff other people consider classics.  I know, school kind of kills the classics, right?  But a funny thing happens to those things outside of the classroom: they're so much better!

Or read the stuff that will become a classic for you.  But either way, you can't be a good writer if you're a terrible reader.

And you can't be a good writer if you approach it like some kind of mechanical output.  Writing for the sake of writing kills the imagination.  Maybe you're the kind of writer who comes up with the absolute best ideas completely on the fly, as you're writing, but (and no offense to you, personally) this is probably not the case.  Ideas are things that happen when you're not writing.  Not all of them.  Really good ideas do occur during the process of writing, but you can't come up with all of them while writing.  This is frankly impossible.

Embrace writer's block.  Writer's block is your mind telling you that you haven't figured it out yet.  The inability to write is not a disease.  It is not something to be fixed, or shunned, or generally ostracized.  Writers aren't bullies!  I mean, not to their stories, anyway.  The story tells itself, but more of this happen off the page than on it. 

If you push yourself to write every day, you're robbing yourself of your best ideas.  Maybe this sort of advice is good when you're getting down the mechanics of writing, learning your voice, but I would consider that more akin to writing all the stuff that should never see the light of day.  The best writers ever also wrote some really terrible stuff when they were just starting out, because this is a craft where you learn as you go.  You constantly improve.  But at a certain point (and maybe you specifically are still learning?) it's time to let the writing take over.  Because any writer will tell you that writing takes over.  It really does. 

But the story happens when you're not writing.  So if you spend all your writing time actually writing, you're killing your story.  Killing it!  It becomes something anyone could have written.  Sure, you put down the words, you had the idea, but you didn't take the time to develop it.  I'm not talking about outlines, if you do that, if you do a lot of that, but what happens before that, after that.  Because you certainly shouldn't be waiting until some beta reader tells you something needs changing to change something before you even write it.

I've always found that the most satisfying writing I ever did was after waiting so long to write something that it positively bursts onto the page.  Sometimes I take so long to write a complete manuscript, weeks go by and I don't write something, but then the surge happens again, and it's really good that I didn't write during those weeks because the stuff I write after those weeks is unquestionably better than what I would've written if I had just pushed ahead.  I'm not talking about waiting for deadlines.  Heck, when I did NaNo for three years in a row, the first year I wrote once a day for all thirty days.  If I missed a day, I doubled up on another, and so kept to a routine.  But the second year and especially the third, I learned what it was like to work away from the routine, still succeed, and have writing that to my mind was by far more inspired than if I'd done a section a day for thirty days.  By that third year I had basically written for about half the month.  This is not bragging (for anyone who continues to find NaNo a huge challenge), but to further demonstrate what I've been saying.

Anticipation is one of life's great experiences.  This absolutely applies to writing.  So no, I don't endorse writing every day.  If you're at all confident in your writing, writing is not the enemy.  Writing is not a chore.  Writing is the freest occupation in the world.  You escape when you read?  You escape when you write.  If you're not thinking the same way as a writer that you do as a reader, you're doing something wrong.  Reading is the daily priority.  It takes a lot of concentration and commitment to read a book, but the funny thing is, it should take less time to write, cumulatively, but over a greater period...

Okay, now I'm just driving you crazy.  Read, don't write.  Until you have to write.  Not because of a deadline, but because if you didn't write it would hurt, hurt the story, hurt you, hurt the readers who subsequently find your work.  Forget popularity.  Forget what people say.  The writing will tell you.  It's not just about getting words down on a page.  If that's writing to you, you're doing it wrong.

Start the year recalibrating!  Read a book!  And then another!  And another!  If you're doing it right, while you're reading, while you're doing everything else you do, the writing is doing itself in the background.  And then you put it down on a page.  And smile.
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