You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

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Justify the … Idea. It’s How I Write

In my theatre arts class, we play a game called Justify the Pose. I say ‘go,’ and everyone tears off around the room doing whatever they like. When I call ‘stop,’ they  must freeze in whatever awkward position they find themselves in, whether they are mid-step or standing on a desk. Then I call out a couple people’s names and they have to justify the pose, on the spot they have to think up a situation in which they might find themselves in this position and then act it out. It’s a great game to get the actors thinking creatively about how to understand certain situations.

Recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how I write. I try to justify the idea.

This is a great way to generate ideas and force a writer to think creatively about a certain idea. Here’s how it works. A random image pops in my head and I immediately think what could justify this situation. What would be the back story? Why would this person be in this situation at this time?

My entire second novel was started on a premise like this. One day I had a random thought of a woman from a second story window seeing a man below wearing a red hat. That’s all I needed to write an entire novel. I began thinking why this woman would be interested in a man wearing a red hat. What was his relationship to her?  Was he a bad man? Was he trying to hide something?

I’m currently working on a trilogy which is based on the same time of premise: a strange image which makes no sense, but I forced myself to give it meaning and make it make sense. In doing so, it forced me to think creatively and I ended up with a novel (and soon to be novels) which are beyond what I thought I could ever think of. But I now know that’s not the case. I can make anything work if I give it enough time and brain power.

So give it a try. Take an idea, a random idea, a bizarre idea and try to justify it. It’s fun and you never know what you’ll end up with.

 

Creative Anchors. How to choose a direction for your story.

This is my term (as far as I know): Creative Anchor. I use that term to describe the first time an idea pops in my head which will “anchor” or force a story along. It’s a crucial creative idea which will make or break a chapter, sometimes even a story. Once you plop an anchor down, you either are stuck with it or will be forced to do a major re-write, in effect, ripping the creative anchor out of the ground and causing all kinds of headaches for your story. Sometimes, obviously, it still needs to be done.

So how do you choose creative anchors? I suppose the ways of choosing them are as varied as authors themselves. Let’s look at an example.

Whisked away somewhere. Where will it be? Antarctica? Punxatawney Pennsylvania? Cochem, Germany?  Each choice brings its own rewards and pitfalls. Once your character travels to any specific place, he or she is bound to the reality of those places and the baggage they carry with them.

This is why writers must choose the anchors carefully. NOT!

That sounds like the right thing to say, but I can attest in my own writing, that is not remotely how I do things. I do not think about those three destinations above and try to anticipate or brainstorm what each would mean for the story. Not at all! Never. That sounds horrible. I could never do that.

So how can you choose? Or better yet, how do I choose?

I just choose one. I wrote a story where I knew the character would travel and so I randomly chose a deserted island, not that I knew what was going to happen on that island or how that island would feed into the story. I chose it simply to find out what would happen. No other reason.

Obviously, what you choose is vitally important, but there is no way to know whether a different choice would be better – other than to re-write it with the different choice. You can certainly do that if you like, I don’t. Or rarely, I should say. I believe (and it could be a foolish belief) that I can write myself out of any situation I write myself into. That, to me, is one of the most enjoyable parts of the creative process.

So my advice to young writers would be not to get too caught up in your ideas and wonder which direction you should go. Just go! Do! Create. Discover. Give yourself a challenge and force yourself of a creative way out of it.

To me, that’s what writing is all about.

8 Ideas, 15 Minutes (The Sad Reality of No Time)

Our school is having some meetings coming up at the end of the month, and I’ve been asked to write up some skits, and find some actors who would perform short pieces for each one which illustrate different life lessons.

I’m always happy to do so, and now I even have a creative writing group which meets once a week to help me with the task. We will need 6 skits, and my group meeting is tomorrow, so I decided that I should take a few minutes and get down a couple ideas to get our brainstorming session off in the right direction.

Well, 15 minutes later, I have already detailed out 8 different skit ideas. I could probably have 8 more in the next 15 if I wanted to continue, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think we will already have enough to work with.

I’ve been in a wonderfully creative spot these last few years. Ideas tend to jump out at me at all moments, and, thus, the sadness of this reality weighs heavily upon me: I simply do not have enough time to explore all my ideas. Life and work seem to stand in the way.

What would I be able to accomplish if I had nothing to do all day but writing and planning writing? I know what I can accomplish when I have a week like that. Vacation time is incredibly productive for me. Imagine if I had 52 weeks of vacation. I’m pretty sure my keyboard would need to be replaced.

This could be kind of depressing, but I can’t let myself think that way. I will choose to believe that my brain is working at its creative best exactly because of the current environment I’m working in. I get to interact with lots of young people. That keeps my brain young, right? I get to discuss and wrestle with many different important issues which can only help further my ideas, right? And when I do have time to write, I’m ready and focused to get as much done as possible. So, perhaps it’s best that I don’t have any additional time.

Although I wouldn’t mind trying the 52 week vacation at some point to see if my creative juices truly have no end. What if they didn’t? That possibility is what always gets me excited.

 

This one deserves the seven-day treatment

Do you ever have an unruly manuscript which simply would not do what you want it to?

I’m in the middle of such a dilemma as I write.

Let me clarify something: this is quite rare for me. For better or worse, my scripts or novels or whatever I’m writing seem to just write themselves. I know where I’m going with them, and I simply need to have time to get it down on paper. Sometimes I just become satisfied with my work and know that it’s finished. It almost seems like I have a lackadaisical attitude toward my work, like “good enough” is good enough. I’m not so cavalier about it. I just find that my brain tells me that it is over. Perhaps it’s all I have or all that I’m willing to give to a project. I’m just done.

And then there’s this certain script which I’m currently working on. “The Family Homecoming.” It’s only about 3000 words – about a 15 minute short play. But, man, it’s been kicking my butt! I have been struggling daily with it because my heart hasn’t been settled concerning it. It just doesn’t feel right. I’m not happy, content, or ready to quit. I am, in fact, angry at it for not following my will and jumping into shape.

It’s “due” in seven days. I have to give it to my drama group at that time, so I need to give it the seven-day treatment.

The seven-day treatment is simple: commit to read and revise it every day from now until it’s due to see what I can shake from its tree. I will not rest until my writing soul tells me that enough is enough. So I will read, edit, create, re-do, re-write, re-format, re-conceptualize until the seven days are up.

Perhaps I still won’t be happy with the piece, but at least I will have given it the time and dedication it needs.

Some writing is more frustrating than others. If it is, give it the seven-day treatment.

Do you have a piece of writing which needs it?

Author: How did you think of that?

I was asked recently by someone who read my latest novel: “How can you think of all the relationships and twists and turns?”

I replied, “Can’t anyone do that?”

“No,” came the quick reply. Huh. What do you know about that?

Writing and ideas is such a down-to-earth organic process for me that I just assume that anyone could do it if they wanted to. But I’m starting to realize that there are levels to writing and plot lines and twisted relationships and mind-jarring surprises that makes the readers go, “I didn’t see that coming.”

How do writers put it all together? How to they plot it out and keep track of everything? How do they do so creatively?

I suppose that each writer has his or her own way of trying to accomplish these.

For me, the answer to these questions are all about being patient and diligent in my writing. Let me explain what I mean.

When I start writing, I have a general direction and idea. If I didn’t, I’d be starring at a blank screen. But I don’t have an outline or an outcome. I love to discover what has yet entered my mind.

So I start writing, getting to know my characters, and allowing the plot line to weave along at a nice pace and then BOOM! It hits. Invariably when I get to a certain point, the force of all that I have already written finally gives me the clear direction of what HAS to happen next and what amazing TWISTS that I can add to the story.

In my latest novel, A Love Story for a Nation, it was slightly different because I based it on a short play that I had written. I knew the crux of the story and the general ending, so I had to create the back story that led up to the big events. What I didn’t know, however, is that there were two amazing secrets simmering beneath the surface. I don’t want to give them away because I’m no spoiler. However, as the idea for the first shocker came to my mind, I had to stop, sit back and really think it through. How much will it change the story? Will it make it better? Is it too contrived? I realized that it was too good of an idea to give up, and, in fact, it added an amazing deep layer to the story that I had not previously seen.

So how did I piece it together? Part luck (my brain just happened to think of it) and part diligence (just by continuing to write and allowing the story to peak at a point that would give me that break-through idea).

So if you’re struggling with ideas, the best advice I can give you is to just write. Keep it going and trust that your time and diligence will pay off for you.

It always does for me.

Writers: Do you have multiple projects on your plate at one time? You should!

I’m one of those people with a messy desk.

I clean it a couple times a year to make it clean and pristine, but within a matter of days, it’s back to messy. It’s just the way my brain works. (For reference, I was just cleaning out my in-box and it had over 900 emails.)

Maybe you are one of those other kind of people who need everything organized and neat, and that’s fine. But if you’re a writer, I suggest having a metaphorical writing table that is plastered with various projects and ideas. Why? For me, at least, it creates a way for the synergy of creativity to rejuvenate itself through cross writing-pollination. (Don’t worry, I don’t understand that sentence either.)

Here’s an example for what works for me. I currently have a 75% finished novel that I have been working on over the last 6 months or so. Last month I started a play which I intend to produce sometime in 2016. I have to write 10 different dramatic sketches, and I’ve been brainstorming ideas, jotting down all kinds of things which may be helpful.

Lately, my focus has been on my new play. It’s moving along quite well. I’m about 5000+ words into it and I have a general idea of where its headed. But soon I’ll be putting it aside to get back to my novel, and here’s why that’s a great thing to do: pausing on a project allows your mind to subconsciously work on its content and characters. Now I have absolutely no scientific data to back this up, but I believe the mind doesn’t stop working on your ideas even if you do.

Here’s what happens: something completely unrelated will jog your memory, creating a new cognitive hook that wasn’t there before, a new relationship between words, ideas, or characters that wouldn’t have been obvious if you weren’t working on something different.

This is why I always take a break from everything that I’m writing. Even if I think a piece is finished, I let it sit while I start on something else. Invariably when I return to the first piece, my ideas change, and it’s almost always for the better.

Allow your ideas to feed into each other. You’ll be amazed at how much that will help.