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.

Inspiration is Cheap. Just Open Your Eyes. (or Ears)

I’m amazed at the inspiration around me. I went for decades not seeing it. But it’s there. Everywhere – Invalidating our self-pitying claims of writer’s block.

Maybe we put blinders on and can’t see it.

Maybe we become so focused on the page that we forget that the page belongs in the world. That’s where it originated, and that’s where it will find it’s conclusion.

Every sight you see is a setting. Every person you watch is a character. Each of them need to be molded and shaped, manipulated and re-imagined on your page, but the spark is right in front of you. What’s keeping you from igniting it?

Even physical sight is not needed, and sometimes not preferred in order to be inspired by one’s surroundings. A breeze, a whistle, a bird’s persistent call, the shifting of the ocean, the honking of a horn, the laughter of friends, the confabulation of lovers, the braking of a car. All of these give depth and insight, we only need to listen. Hear the words, hear the sounds and allow the scenes to come alive in our minds.

And what of words themselves. These pre-arranged letters have a lot to offer on their own. How many of these single words or partial phrases have hidden meanings, unknown characters and plots hanging from them if we only prod them with our minds just a little.

“respectable” – Is it a son trying to please his father? Is it a girl looking for the right man? Is it the banker looking for a neighborhood to move into? Is it the drug addict with an unattainable label?

Stories are hidden behind each word.

Entire books can spring forth from a specific sound.

Trilogies have been erected upon a single panoramic scene.

Inspiration is everywhere, at each turn of every day. Don’t let it pass by.

Notice it and create.

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?

What to do when your manuscript punches back

Return the favor.

I had one of those semi-successful, yet only semi-successful writing sessions this afternoon. I was ready to go, working on a play this time, seemingly knowing what I was going to do with these scenes when all of the sudden …

Bam!

The manuscript hit me right in the nose. Undaunted, I put my head down and plucked away at those keys trying to let the story know who was boss. Then it happened again.

Bam!

“Okay, I get your point, but I still think this should happen.”

Bam!

It asserted itself like any championship fight not held rather recently. Finally, it had my attention, and it forced me to listen. What I was writing wasn’t going to work.

My character was saying one thing but my words were saying another. I just wanted to continue on obliviously, hoping it would all work out, but manuscripts are funny. They are in control, and if you don’t listen to them, you will end up with a bunch of insincere dribble. Yes, it may cost you a lot of time, but is the price of your writing soul so easily cast aside?

I think not. So here’s what to do when your manuscript hits back:

1) Listen to what it’s telling you. You most likely already know that it isn’t working. Be honest with yourself. Rewind and try something new.

2) Be happy. Your manuscript is like your conscience. It knows things that you don’t yet want to realize. Be happy that you have a little friend who is telling you that your writing stinks and that everything is all wrong.

3) Punch back. Dig down and tell that manuscript that it may have won today’s round, but that you will be back, smarter, more agile, and with more weapons in your arsenal. Don’t let a manuscript defeat you after a few short jabs to the jaw – or writing arm. Wait it out and knock it out of the park (if I can mix my sports metaphors).

 

I Feel a Focus Break Coming On

I’m starting to feel like I’m hitting a writing wall with my new novel. It’s not writer’s block. I know what I want to write, but I’m losing interest for the moment. It’s not because I’m not happy with the story. I am, and I can’t wait to see it through.

But I’ve noticed that over the last couple of days, my writing routine has dwindled from 2000 to 3000 words a day to between 500 – 700 words.

For two weeks I was motoring through an exciting section in the book that recently came to a crescendo, but didn’t end the story. But after that peak, the story makes a dramatic shift, and I think that is the issue. I generally know what I want to happen in the story after this shift, but I don’t think I’ve put the proper time into exploring all the possible avenues.

Therefore, I think a short break from this story might do me some good. It will give me time to focus on other projects which I have pushed aside, and it will, hopefully, give me the required think time to push through to the end of the novel.

A writer’s break can be a rejuvenating and refreshing change which will pay off in the long run.

So, do you ever find you mind wandering away from your story? Do you ever have trouble putting the focus into the plot and characters? Have you been going non-stop on this novel for a while now? Perhaps you, too, are a good candidate for a writer’s break.

But if you’re like me, it won’t be long.until I’m itching to get back to these characters. It won’t be long until my mind has given itself the required clarity to push through to the end. That’s always been my experience, anyways.

Breaks are needed. Use them to drive you back to your manuscript.

Bad Writing Sessions – Push Onward

Ahhh! The tortured writer. Tortured in thoughts. Words that taunt. Phrases which elude. Plot which plods. Characters I don’t care about.

When will it end? Perhaps when I end this tortuous session.

We’ve all had them – those unproductive sessions when nothing flows right and everything sounds exactly wrong.

That was me this afternoon. I did manage to squeak out 1000 words, which is better than nothing.

Or is it?

It was one of those days that I question the assumption of being a writer. Everything sounded so bland and stale. Those words keep ringing in my ear. What words? “Every novelist only has one novel.” No, it can’t be. Am I re-writing my old novel or borrowing plot or characterization. Is my voice in this one even distinguishable.

Help, where will it end?

Get a grip, writer! You know how things work.

One day your fingers are magical, the next day they feel like lead. One day your thoughts flow like the amazon, cascading down a myriad of waterfalls – invigorating, cleansing, inspiring. The next day you are a stagnant pond covered with green crud.

Today I was the crud.

But don’t give up hope just yet. Perhaps something will grow out of the crud. It might even be beautiful.

Never give up.

Push, renew, re-write, and try again.

Okay, charge forward, indie author. One session or a thousand in the crud will not hold you down. Remember the past, use it for the future.

If the time is not now, it will be soon because just as long as you continue to put those lead fingers to the keys, there’s always hope.

A Thinking Stop

I was writing early today, and the story flowed well. It wasn’t long until I had rattled off a thousand words without much difficulty at all. It felt good. I was accomplishing something.

And then I stopped. Not because I couldn’t have written more; I was completely prepared and able to do so, but I purposefully stopped – to think.

I have found that an extremely important part of writing is thinking. I tend to just go, but what comes first isn’t necessarily the best. I reached a part in my story where I have to make some conscious decisions about what to do next. I generally know where it is going, but some small important details may greatly hinge on the pondering that I do.

So I purposefully stopped in order to let the plot and characters rattle around in my brain for a day. I want to see if any seed thoughts can grow into a direction which is more intriguing that I originally intended. A lot of writing can happen without any keyboard or pen or pencil. A lot of writing can happen in the mind while driving, while doing the dishes, or while exercising.

Some people stop writing because their stuck. I stop writing because I’m not stuck. I just want to add a layer of thought to the direction I am taking.

Slow down for a day and see what happens the next time you turn on your computer.