Heya everybody! It’s time for another round of Meditative Monday and today’s topic?
Well I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing journey and how far I’ve come on it. And now that I’m in a place where I’m comfortable, I’ve been thinking…
Man, I wasted a lot of fookin’ time!
You might argue that bringing your skills up in two years is fast for some. But now I actually feel that was kinda slow because I realize that I ran into a lot of unhelpful dead ends.
So I thought, what if I could start over? What would I do differently to get exactly to the point where I am now, or to become better than I am now?
Of course, bear in mind that this is specific to me. I know what I want in my writing (vivid descriptions, lively characters, energetic prose emotions, humor, and voice, and being able to say things about the human condition.)
So please don’t think of anything here as advice for your writing.
1.) Read Way Less Writing Books
You might gasp and say, “How are you supposed to learn if you don’t read about craft?”
To that I say to things:
One, these days I don’t read any writing books. I haven’t needed to.
I prefer relying on strengthening my awareness, learning about the experiences (of myself and others), reading other novels, and doing a bunch of hardcore butt-in-chair practice day in and day out.
Today, this helps me much more than any writing book I’ve read.
Two, I’m of the opinion that craft (not books on marketing or publishing) books have diminishing returns. This means that the more writing books I buy, the less benefits I get for what it costs me.
To put it in perspective let me give you an example.
A few years ago, I’d say that I was still in the beginner stages of writing. When I first started buying and reading craft books, the improvement seemed like a gushing hose. Improvement to the left! Improvement to the right! All the new concepts seemed so fresh and shiny.
And I liked that feeling of my writing feeling fresh and shiny so I bought more books to learn more stuff.
But what actually happened was that more and more, the advice in all my writing books started to sound the same. Of course, I tried to get around this by narrowing down to different writing topics and that worked for a while, but eventually the same thing happened. All the advice started to repeat.
And what’s worse about it is that the niche topics that I was interested in don’t actually have books out on them.
You also have to consider, these books cost money. I’m not rich, so you can imagine the frustration of spending money on a promising book and then later realizing that it just says the same thing as every other book out there. But also, not every book is short. Theoretically, I can always go earn my money back, but I don’t want to waste my time to just hear someone say the same old thing.
But that’s the nature of improvement. When you start out, it’ll feel like you’re flying. When you’ve gotten some skill under your belt, you’ll feel like you’re barely budging.
But this is where practice picks up the slack. It’s one thing to have a hundred pages of experimentations and feel like you’re going nowhere. And it’s another to just have two or three and think you’re going nowhere. But usually the former is unlikely to happen (unless maybe you did them all one hundred pages at once.)
Mileage is really is that important.
Don’t get me wrong, read the how-to’s when you’re starting out. The fundamentals aren’t gonna hurt you. But you don’t need to beat yourself over the head with them over and over again when it’s clear you understand them already.
2.) Reading People Who Are Way Better Than Me
If for some strange reason I haven’t expressed this a thousand times already, I love me some Anthony Doerr because his writing is way better than mine (but I’m closing this gap)! I just open one of his books and my mouth foams with rainbows and all his tasty descriptions. He’s just one of the people I study religiously.
For a brief time during my writing journey, I decided that I’d only read authors who were much more skilled than me. Pulitzers, award-winning novels, best-sellers, you name it. I was reading it. I did this mainly to find authors with styles I liked and could learn from.
This shot my improvement up dramatically.
Some people advocate learning from bad books, but in my opinion, that’s like flogging yourself with a cat-o-nine tails. Our time on this planet is limited, and I’m sure as heck not spending mine torturing myself.
I can’t stress the importance of this.
Only problem is those books tend to be much pricier so I can’t do it as much as I’d like. But I sure wish that I’d thought of it earlier because the good books showed me the skill I could achieve if I worked that hard. Up until then, the only writers who I thought would be really descriptive were poets or really obscure writers who I’d need a microscope to find. If I get the money I’d definitely do it again.
3.) Get Serious About Meditation Sooner
Because I learned writing concepts that no book teaches you like…
Wu Wei: The art of ‘non-doing’. This is not a code for being lazy, but the idea of letting things run their natural course. I write my story with a very loose hand now these days, which might sound scary for some people. People who like having their novels under tight control would probably balk and say, “But how does anything get done? How can you be sure that it will work out in the end? What if it doesn’t work? How do you even know what you’re doing?”
Before I might totally agree with them and shiver my boots. But today I can now say from experience that those fears are unfounded and that constantly worrying about how all your future scenes sort themselves out is unhelpful. It’s just another form of unnecessary stress about something that isn’t happening at present.
Here’s the thing…
You might spending all this time fussing over a scene and then strike it out altogether at the end of the finished product. That time could’ve been used focusing on the scene right in front of you in the drafting stage so you can have a finished draft.
Sure, sometimes the story blows way off course. I used to get really wound up about this because I’d always feel like I’m “off-schedule”. But then I realized that the need to feel “on-schedule” was really the part that hurt my writing.
When I thought about it, my writing never “suffered” because something new and unexpected came up. It only suffered when I tried to stuff it into these random boundaries I thought the story had to follow. And one of my biggest regrets for my last book is not discovering this soon enough!
Letting Go: Because the inability to do this causes so much unnecessary frustration, anger, and giving up. When I say letting go, I’m not just saying ‘Kill your darlings’. I’m talking about letting go of trying to make things perfect. Letting go of trying to always do the mental math of how events link up to the future. Letting go of productivity goals. Letting go of what isn’t making me productive. Letting go of doing what other people are doing and doing what works for me.
Patience: Because it’s way too easy to get discouraged as a writer. And most issues in writing are self-imposed!
Awareness: I feel like I could’ve replaced my description books with Anthony Doerr and pouring a shit ton of energy into developing stronger awareness of the world. And arguably be better than what I am now.
Self-knowledge and evolution: You can’t tell me to use the Hero’s Journey to map out my books. You also can’t tell me to write character sheets. Character arcs make my eyes glaze over. Plotting? Forget it. Doesn’t work for me. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand (and still trying to understand) my own process. I’ve come up with my own special techniques and strategies to overcome problems in writing as a result.
Scene feels empty? Look closer. Gaps in description come from not being fully present in the scene.
Want to make cool life-like characters? Focus on the gesture, the barebones essence of what they are. Add tiny tidbits of humanity and their unique personality later on in the story.
No ideas? Writing feels dull? Freewrite solves that.
And speaking of freewriting…
4.) Digitize My Daily Freewriting Documents Waaaaaay Sooner
Guys, I started my earliest freewriting document on December 26 2015. Two years haven’t even passed. But I’ve done a good job of keeping up with my habit and now I’m happy to say that recently I’ve finished my 35th freewriting document.
With every doc being 20 pages, that’s a grand total of 700 pages of doing this less than two years.
Freewriting this way has rewarded me with a lot of rich ideas and tidbits that I go back and dig through from time to time. It’s fascinating because it’s kind of like a time capsule to go back and see what I was thinking in the past. But I also I see how the practice has impacted my writing over time. Personally, I always love seeing how a person’s writing grows and develops over a period of time. It’s like walking through a mini museum.
Before I used to do longhand since it was easier, but I don’t like keeping journals, especially because anyone in the house could pick them up. I have family members that would tear a page out to scribble something down, or put it somewhere I can’t find it without telling me so I moved to digital.
But meh, whatever works.
The Next Part (s)…
Errm… I did not think this would go on that long, so I’m gonna chop this post up. Stay tuned for the next parts! 😀 And keep writing!