To be honest, that is only a partially accurate depiction of my issues. What I used to do was write like a maniac, having sessions of five or six hours where I would do nothing else but write, and in these sessions I came up with the best five or six pages that I could come up with. But then, once I had done that, I needed a laaaaarge period of time to “reload”, as if my batteries were down or something, I wouldn’t write anything for like three weeks or a month.
And because I was an idiot, I thought that was a perfectly OK model. I had read about how writers have different rhythms, how some just force themselves to sit every morning and write for four hours straight (Stephen King iirc), and how others just can’t be that systematic. I read Gaiman telling a netizen how “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”, how you can’t expect a writer to dedicate his life to writing and do no other stuffs until his book is over. Gaiman isn’t wrong; I just made the mistake of assimilating it. He is saying that people shouldn’t push writers, and I read it as “I shouldn’t push myself to write.”
Things went worse after that. I entered University, in Literature, which is probably the worst thing you can do as a young aspiring writer. In my native language, as far as I know, there is no such thing as “storytelling classes”, and that’s a damn shame, cause literature does very little to appeal to your creative mind. First, it crushes the illusions that you might have had about being talented. You read about authors that can put so much more in a sentence than you can, and you hear from teachers who (most of them anyway) can draw so much more from a sentence than you could. Are you as good as any of them? No. At least, not as young and inexperienced as you are at that point.
My reaction to university was probably the worst that you can imagine. It was twofold. One, I started to distanciate myself from the act of writing. It didn’t seem to matter too much whether I was writing or not, because what I did was so unbelievably small and insignificant, when put in perspective with what had been done before. Second, the few times I did find myself writing, I started to do way over the top theorization. I couldn’t write a line without inserting third and fourth meanings behind each word, which resulted in writing like two paragraphs in four hours or something, and it drained me extra-fast. And then two weeks later, when I would read those two paragraphs again, I wouldn’t remember anymore why it was so central and necessary that I used this word or that one.
I drew a very basic conclusion from it, because I was still an idiot: I started to blame university for killing my passion. I hit the wall that I couldn’t write as lazily as I used to anymore and still be satisfied with the result. But instead of realizing that the problem was my laziness, I thought the problem was my extended knowledge of what was good writing and what wasn’t.
So I stopped writing, for quite a few years actually. I used that time to put some things into perspective, and make some realizations. I might start writing stuff again. Maybe I will use this blog for it, maybe I won’t. I don't know. For starters, I just wanted to write about writing. Mostly why to write, and how. This is already way longer than I expected it would be, so I’ll just write another blog post on how, and focus on why for this one.
So, why should you write? Notice I’m going with “should” here. I know there are tons of reasons why people write, and if you’ve ever been to a writing forum, you’ve probably read most of these. My feeling about that is that a ton of those reasons are terrible. I don’t mean that they’re wrong, I don’t mean that people lie about writing for those reasons, or that people are bad people for having those reasons to write. It’s just that those reasons are going to hinder, or completely stop, your evolution as a writer.
- Write because you have stories to tell! That seems intuitive, and of course you shouldn’t write if you have nothing to say. But that actually doesn’t happen: I’ve never met a single human being who didn’t have anything important to share. But having stories to tell isn’t the prerogative of a writer, it’s just the prerogative of creating something. Just because you have things to say doesn’t mean you need words to transmit them, maybe you’d do better with painting, or music, or whatever else floats your boat. Don’t write because you have stories to tell, write because you’re good at telling stories, write because words are the right medium to express yourself.
- Dissenters will object, write for yourself! That is a very common advice and it’s pure bullshit. For three reasons.
a) Writing is a communication from an author to an audience. If you’re just going to ignore the audience when they tell you you’re doing it wrong, then you’d be better off just writing a diary and not caring. That’s a different process. I wouldn’t expect the people who write a diary to enter university and write “omg dear diary, all these authors are so much better than me, I don’t want to write in you anymore”. The people who write diaries aren’t looking for advice on how to write, they just fucking do it. That’s why “write for yourself” is a bad advice, as it is addressed to people who don’t need advice, and aren’t likely to read it anyway.
b) People aren’t retarded. If they can’t share your personal trip, it doesn’t mean that you’re so much smarter than they are, it likely means that you have failed at rendering your personal trip accessible or pleasant. Don’t write in a bubble. If you finished a text and people can’t understand any of what you were trying to convey, then you haven’t achieved anything. Get back on it, be more precise. That’s part of being a writer, and by the way, that’s no small part at all.
c) It’s actually bad logic: just because you’re writing for yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t include any exterior influence. There is no dividing line. You can write for yourself, enjoy the act of writing, enjoy the feeling that you get when you put in the final word and realize that you have achieved something (as it is indeed fucking awesome), without having to ignore all criticism. Grow up. Accept help. People took time to read this text that they didn’t like and react on it. Respect that.
- Write for recognition. If you want recognition, I can think of like 750 things that you should try to do before you try writing. Doctor. Anything scientific. Mathematician. Even poker player. Being a writer because you want to be famous is a horrible horrible mindset, because you have little control on whether or not you’re going to become famous, and you’re likely to see a lot of people succeed with writing that you deem bad or uninspired, and get all resentful and angry and shit.
- Write because you have ghosts to escape. I love that line, it actually sounds even better in VO, which is French (“J’écris pour échapper aux fantômes.”). I read that on a forum and I still think that the person who wrote this is a genius just for having thought of it. Nonetheless, it’s still a terrible reason to write, because it’s the culmination of “writing for yourself”. Your ghosts are your own, we (as an audience) have no business sharing that chase. Also, depression is very detectable in a writing, and you don’t want to write something pointlessly negative. I’m not saying you should write about unicorns, to the contrary, most of my short stories were very dark. But that negativity should have a purpose, and a purpose that is inherent to the text. If the purpose is exterior, just chasing your own ghosts, then you’re probably just creating ghosts in other people’s minds, and that’s how the Vashta Nerada keep reproducing themselves.
In the end you should write because you want to express something, and your most advanced expressive skill is writing. Write when you need to. It’s very basic and very complicated at the same time. I’m not sure I could describe it, but I’m pretty sure most people have felt it anyway.
That being said, here are a few things to do in order to stop not writing.
- Stop thinking that you aren’t motivated enough at the moment. Please. That won’t ever change. If you want to write something, just fucking write it.
- Create deadlines. In extreme cases, find girls on the web, and write things for their birthday. You won’t get laid (At all. Ever.), but you will still be writing. There might have been a shift there, it’s possible that people didn’t work like this before, but a lot of the time our generation needs to HAVE to do something in order to do it.
- Don’t be afraid to share your process. We’re on the web, we can go for beta posts, we can edit, we don’t need to produce utterly perfect results from the start. Maybe you’re having trouble with a plot point, and you can’t find a way around it? Just post your damn problem. Let people weigh in. People are useful.
- Use your references. I used a modified Day quote a few lines back. That’s not shameful. Plagiarism is such a huge thing today that people tend to approach writing as if no other human in history had approached it before. Originality only gets you so far. Worry about being good, don’t worry about being unique.
I hope I don't sound patronizing. I’ll try to be more concise on the second post anyway.