Friday, April 27, 2012

Tools in the Box

I don't know that I've ever had writing advice per se. Workshops, seminars and lectures about different aspects of the craft? Yes. I'm kind of a workshop junkie - always interested in how other people do the work. (And I'm not at all ashamed to steal someone else's mojo if I think I can use it to make my writing easier, faster, or better.) The downside of that is that up until a few years ago, I'd walk into a workshop, listen, and then have a panic attack over everything I was doing wrong. Which brings us to my number one bit of:

Good Stuff
1. Know and honor your process - Are you a plot driven writer or a character driven writer? You'll be happiest if you can answer that question. Take classes, challenge yourself to try different ways of getting your words on paper, but, if you catch yourself worrying about what you've been doing wrong all this time, stop. There is no wrong (except maybe not writing at all). Pause and remind yourself you're simply trying out a new tool. It fits your hand or it doesn't.

2. Know what works for you - You know that saying "When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail"? It does help to have more than one tool in your box, as it were. There's nothing wrong with experimenting with new writing tools or techniques. Explore. Play around with all the different ways of generating content. But at the end of the writing day, only hold on to those tools that actually do the job you want. Let everything else go without guilt. No sense cluttering up your writer's toolbelt with useless junk.

3. Be honest - respect yourself and your audience enough to be authentic. This is easy to say, it is hellishly hard to do. I think the easiest way to get to honesty is to trust yourself. What you feel, how you think, the way you perceive the world - yeah, yeah, it's all unique and we're all special snowflakes - but really, no one else the combination of experiences and filters that you do. Trust what your body, your brain and your emotions tell you.

And finally, in a refrain that should be familiar to everyone:

4. Shut up and do the work. No. Don't talk about doing the work unless you're specifically brainstorming. Work. Motivation for getting down to work? Easy. Do you want a complete story or don't you? If you do, I suspect, you'll find a way to get words down. Somebody said something in a show I was watching. "Do what you love, not what is safe, because when you do, nothing can stop you." I think I love that.

Bad Stuff
1. Anything that begins with 'should' or 'oughta' as in, "You know what you should do?" Yeah. When someone says that to you? I don't think they're talking about you. They're talking about themselves. Consider it an admission of failure on the part of the speaker - 'should' ends up describing what the speaker wishes he or she had done. Now, clearly, there are exceptions to this, all kinds of them, I suspect. I'm talking about the people who want to tell you what you 'ought' to be writing. Or how you 'should' perform in order to fit into the box of their world view. NOT talking about your critique partner saying "You know, you oughta throw some zombie squirrels into that scene!" Cause, really. Don't zombie squirrels make everything better?

2. Excuses. Life is drama.There's always some crisis or some upheaval underway. You have two choices. Let that shit derail you or take solace from it all in writing. And yes, I'm sorry, but unless you're insensate in a hospital bed, it really is your choice to write or not write. Own that. Take control of your choice. Some days, the decision not to write may be the best one. When a friend's son was dying, she'd been working on her laptop while sitting in the hospital at his bedside. Until, one day, she closed the laptop and said, "Done. This is too hard." She didn't write again for two years. It was absolutely the right decision for her at that time. It allowed her the space to focus entirely on her son and then on her mourning process when he passed away. Because she made a conscious decision, she could put the writing away without experiencing any guilt over whether or not she 'should' be working. For someone else, the few lines of text they manage to generate between crises might be the richest, most helpful therapy on earth, giving them the strength to keep going. Where's the bad thing in this? I think it's in lying to yourself - making excuses over why you aren't working rather than owning up to the fact that you've made a de facto decision. You knew I had to quote Yoda, right? "Do or do not. There is no try."

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