Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Art of Writing: Learn to Chill

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers stress out a lot. No, really, they do. I know I do, and I'm sure you do, too. There is the pre-story drama where you are in the planning stages and the story is no more than a hardened seed of possibility in the root of your brain. 'Oh what a stupid idea. I want to write it but it's so cliched/weird/gruesome/mushy,' you tell yourself. Sometimes it stops there. Other times you take a tentative reach toward the keyboard, stretching your fingers, staring at the cursor blinking on the blank page and think of the perfect opening line; the one that will catapult your story to the top seller list, make you the next J.K Rowling or James Patterson. A household name at least and a movie deal or two in the making. Or maybe you're just looking for a clever line to get your story started. You write a sentence and delete, write a sentence and delete, write a paragraph and delete in frustration. It's not perfect. It's just not. But maybe you get over that and continue anyway. Characters appear. Plot happens. More stresses abound. Is this character too flat? No one is going to be able to connect with this character! You call this a plot? It's a mess! No one's going to want to buy this. No one is going to want to read it. You go to author chat rooms and agent chats and writers boards and ask fervently would this get published? Or this? Or this? What is hot right now? Is this too stupid?

First, chill out, take a deep breath. Breathe in, breathe out. It's going to be okay. No, really. If you're a writer, that is to say if you write, if you love to write and create worlds and characters and sentences that dance and sparkle on the page, then the first thing you have to do--the core element--is loving what you write. Love your story. Love your characters. Write your passion into every word, hook your heartbeats on every comma no matter how misplaced. Love it, live it. And most importantly, tell the truth, your own truth, in every single press of a keyboard or glide of a pen across paper or words dripped into a recorder. Write what moves you, what tickles you, what makes you want to sing, what makes you want to cry, what makes you want to hop in the sack and love all night.

Second, realize that the first draft is the first draft and it is not going to be perfect and what's more, that's a good thing. True, sometimes writers will have a flash of inspiration and write everything they mean to say in a frenzied pitch, the story writing itself like magic across the page. But that frenzied pitch isn't always going to be there. Sometimes you have to struggle and sweat and cry and moan and that's okay. You will get it right if you don't give up and the feeling of accomplishment is euphoric, filling your head, singing at your fingertips. Allow yourself time to explore your story and your characters. Let them take you where they will. Anything can be changed. Anything can be edited. In this process you not only discover what you're writing, but you also discover yourself. Editing is when you hone your craft, working and fixing until the story is tight and gleaming, characters strong, plot engaging, euphoric feeling over 9,000.

Third, it's okay to ask for advice, but realize at some point that no one is going to be able to help you but you. You can ask in all the chat rooms or forums you like but the most people can do is offer advice. The answer to the problem sometimes lies in your brain and your brain alone. If a story frustrates you, don't throw it out. Don't destroy it in fits of depression and whatever you do, as my dear friend tells me often, DON'T DELETE. Save it somewhere else if you don't want to look at it. Put it aside. Look at it with fresh new eyes another day. Most importantly, don't give up.

So you do all this and what, you'll get published? Maybe. I don't know. Not even an agent can be sure. And if it is published there is no guarantee that it will sell well or at all. There are so many factors going into making a successful book and probably the biggest factor of all is luck. Maybe you'll be lucky. Maybe you won't. The point is no one can truly predict the next big thing. The point is you never know when you're going to hit an agent or a publisher that will love your story just as much, if not more than you do. Maybe that will never happen. But if it doesn't at least you will have your story, the story of your heart that you poured your passion in. The story that exhilarated you and made you cry. The story of the truth of your life. The story that only you can tell and no one else, no one in the world, can tell it exactly the way you can. Treasure that. Write for you. Write with your passion. Write with everything in you because the one thing you have that no body else does is the story deep in your heart.

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