Monday, September 22, 2014
Don't just dream, write!
Writing is hard. There are millions of books, essays, blog posts, letters, diary entries and online rants going into detail about how hard it is. We’re creating worlds here, taking little squiggles of ink and pixels and making them into entire living, breathing worlds, and it takes all of our blood, sweat and tears to make it happen. We’ve got to wrestle with characterization, dialogue, plotting, timing, interpersonal relationships, symbolism and any number of things that Literature teachers spend years talking about.
The biggest challenge, though, is getting started in the first place.
I’m a journalist by trade, and if you talk to any one of us long enough you’ll find out that most of us have a novel we’ve always meant to write. The same is true of Tumblr and online message boards, where fans come up with a whole host of fanfiction plots that they swear they’ll write or keep hoping someone will write for them. Each and every one of them can always tell you the plot of their unwritten novel or story in exquisite detail, having spent hours, days or even years of their free time working it all out in their heads. They’re outlines even the most planning-obsessed writer would kill for.
And the tragedy of it all is that most of these stories will never be able to be read, because none of these people ever seem to write them down.
Getting that first sentence out of your head and onto the paper can be unspeakably terrifying. You’ve dragged your fantasy out into reality, and every insecurity and doubt you’ve ever had comes right along with it. The sentence sits there, lifeless, completely without the crackle and sparkle the story has in your dreams, and you want nothing more than to delete it immediately.
But don’t. Go on to the second sentence instead, then the third, fourth and even the fifth. Rip the scene out of you word by word and lay it down on the page. Let the characters you’ve come to know so well laugh and scream and trip all over the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first scene of your story. It doesn’t even matter if it’s any good. What matters is that it’s there, it’s real and you can touch it.
If you do this for long enough, you might get lucky and the words will start pouring out of you on their own. If that happens let it all pour out of you, not worrying if you’ve gotten a description wrong or part of the dialogue is terrible or you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few minutes. All that matters right now is getting the words out of you and on to that page.
Later, you can go back and slap it all into shape. Even the most experienced writers rewrite and edit their work dozens of times, throwing away whole scenes and changing characters and redoing the ending when the first one didn’t work.
In the novel I just finished writing, I literally stumbled my way through an entire third act plot twist because I knew I needed to get from point A to point B but I had no clue how to get there. Later, when it was done and I could see the entire story arc laid out in front of me, I went back and rewrote that whole section exactly the way it should have been.
The truth is, no one’s first draft is very good. But if you never write that first draft, you’ll never get to the second (and the third, fourth, fifth, etc.). And, more importantly, you’ll never get to that moment when someone reads your story and tells you how grateful they are that it was out in the world for them to find.