Something that's been niggling at me quite often of late is the plethora of writing advice available to us, both online and off, and the quagmire of emotions surrounding that advice. My latest Letter from the Burrow dove into this muddle headfirst, and I wanted to share it here with you, as well, because this is something I think every writer needs to hear.
Writing isn't something that we can learn from beginning to end and eventually discover we know everything there is to know. There's always something we'll be unsure of or that feels new or that just doesn't seem to stick in our minds, no matter how hard we try.
With such an open-ended craft, it's no surprise that we can spend hours, days, or even weeks reading about writing and never actually writing.
What's just as bad is that, the more we read, the more we may start to doubt our own instincts. Our creativity gets tamped down by all the rules and suggestions and "must haves" that we forget how to just sit down and let words spill onto the page. We might even lose touch with why we're writing in the first place.
There's absolutely a place for writing advice beyond the scope of our own knowledge, but when we stop trusting what we do know and how we feel in our heart of hearts, we get into tricky scenarios.
For example ...
When you're working with an editor, there's a difference between looking at the red markings on the page and thinking,
Yowch! Some of these feel a little off, but she's the professional, so I'll just go ahead and make all the changes ...
as opposed to thinking
Wow! This is a bit painful, but most of these changes are going to bring my story even closer to the way I want it to come across, so I'll make those for sure and consider the rest.
When you hear about an upcoming writing workshop, there's a difference between thinking,
Oh, that sounds interesting! I should really take that ...
as opposed to thinking
Hmm ... that's something I've been trying to work on and haven't had any luck. I'm going to look into that workshop and see if it's a good fit.
Can you feel the difference? One of those thoughts is reactive, perhaps leading us into a scenario that will cause overwhelm or even regret, while the other is measured and thoughtful, allowing us to channel intuition and past experience to figure out what our next step should be.
Finding the Right Help at the Right Time
My personal hope is that the resources I provide reach the writers who are looking for them at the time when they most need them, rather than add to the confusion and the chaos.
Ideally, any book or workshop or service you partake in within the wonderful world of writing won't make you dependent on it but will empower you to carry on, walking your own path; learning to trust your creative instincts and know what works and what doesn't; when you need outside help and when you need to keep things up close and personal.
That ebook on outlining worked wonders for your last book but is tying you into knots with this one? Let it go.
Feeling the urge to find some outward accountability, but fearing being told that you're lazy and unmotivated? To heck with that! Do whatever you need to do to put that accountability system into play and then start writing so you have something to be accountable about.
Getting lost in character questionnaires and still have no idea who your character is? Set aside all the blog posts and workbooks and just sit down with a piece of paper and ask them, "Who are you?"
There are no right answers. No perfect strategies.
However, I do believe we know, deep inside, when we're procrastinating and when we genuinely need help.
Writing can be mind-boggling, and at best that's one of the coolest things about it; at worst, it's one of the biggest things that can stop us from moving forward.
Rather than looking at outside help as the enemy or as laziness or as a creative saviour, let's develop a relationship with it that has our own gut feelings and creative eccentricities and passion at the core. When you really, truly need help, draw it into your orbit without shame or fear, get what you can from it, and then gently release it.
Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust your creativity.
That trust will guide you home to the most incredible stories you'll ever write.
You are the best writing guide you will ever meet.
Is this easier said than done? Some days yes, some days no. If the gap between here and there feels wider than you're comfortable with, spend a few minutes with these questions and see what comes up. They'll help you find more ease and bridge that gap.
When it comes to writing ...
... do I feel like a novice? an old hand? a beginner? a guru? a hack? a hard worker? Why do I feel this way? When do I feel this way? Have I always felt this way?
... which characters hold my attention more than others? What is it about them I love? Are there any common threads?
... how do I know what to write?
... when do I feel most content?
... when do I feel most confident?
... when do I feel most unsure?
... when do I feel powerful?
A Day to Write Without Walls
I hope today, if you have time to write, you'll spend a bit of time with the wisdom and knowledge you already possess. There can be a beautiful sense of space and ease in writing with no outside forces at work: no prompts, no guidelines, nothin'.
If it feels strange or unfamiliar or even a little uncomfortable, that's okay. Doodle on the page or watch your mouse cursor move in lazy circles for a few minutes if it helps you relax. Just spend a bit of time with yourself and your writing and see what happens.
Happy writing, creative soul!