Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writing What We Feel

Today, I'm taking a comment someone made completely out of context. Not because I'm twisting anyone's words, but, because, the words gave me a thought that was, really, at a tangent to what was meant by the original comment. But it's a thought worth talking about, because this is one of the things I see tossed around on blogs all of the time.

Here's a paraphrase of the comment (because I didn't write it down, and I'm not going to go back looking for it): I can't write what I'm not in the mood to write.

There is some truth to that, I suppose. At least, at first, there is some truth to that. When you first start to write, it's very difficult to write when you're not in the mood for it or when you need to write something that is counter to your current mood. It becomes like an assignment for school, at that point, which means it's no fun. Who wants to write when it's no fun, right?

Well, here's the thing, if you want to be an author that writes books instead of book. Or an author that is able to put out a steady stream of books, you can't let your mood, your feelings, get in the way of writing. There will just be days when you don't feel like writing. You don't feel creative. You feel like everything you're putting on the screen is garbage.

Before I go on, let me back up a moment. I believe that every writer needs to find their own way of doing things. Some writers choose to not write every day, and, if that's what works for them, if that's their style, that's the way they should do it. However, that being said, I think a lot of people that want to be writers don't write every day not because it's their choice of style, but, because, they don't know how to get past how to write when they're not feeling inspired.

And, yes, for those of you that have been here for a while, I have talked about this before, but it's been a long time (and I don't remember in what post), and I think it's something that probably needs repeating every so often. Besides, not only do I have that comment to inspire me, I also have Monday's post keeping it in my mind.

As I mentioned, writing is not one of those things that comes easily to my son. Or to me. He likes doing it. Except, well, when he's doing it. He likes his ideas, and he likes his results, but the act of getting started... it's horrific. Although, there are some people that can sit down and write on demand, my son is not one of them. That makes completing writing assignments a huge obstacle and requires much pushing and prodding by me for him to do them. Not just ones he's doing for my class but any writing assignment. See, he thinks he needs to feel like writing, to be in the mood, before he can do it. The thing I have to tell him over and over (and when I say over and over, I mean over and over (for years, now)) is to just start writing.

Just start writing and it will come to you. It's so counter-intuitive. But I know, because I'm the same way. And I struggle with it. Staring at the screen trying to figure out how I want to start. Of course, at this point in my life, I've worked out a few tricks to get me going (listening to music, unfortunately, is not one of them (as I discussed way back here)). The prevailing wisdom is that we get inspiration and, then, we write. And, sure, that can happen. That's where my global ideas come from, after all. But it doesn't handle the day-to-day stuff.

The problem with that thinking, though, the waiting for inspiration to happen thinking, is that if we wait for it, it won't happen often enough that we will ever accomplish anything of note. I know that, too, because that's what I used to believe. It's why I have several unfinished projects from my misguided writing youth, including a great story about a dragon that I still want to get back to one day.

However, when we just start writing, just start, inspiration comes. It sneaks in during the act somewhere, and, eventually, we find that we've WRITTEN! I watch this happen with my son all the time. Of course, I have to tell him about 20 times (okay, 50 times) to "just start" before he actually does. Like I said, painful. But after... after, he always says he should have listened and just started, because, once he started, he was able to write.

And this is why I say that writers should not write when they feel like it. They should not write when they're in  the mood. And they should not write only what they're in the mood to write. Writers should just write. Just start. You be the one in charge. Don't be at the whim of something as fickle as inspiration. Take control of it. Start writing and inspiration will come find you, because inspiration doesn't want to be left out. Seriously.

I'm not going to tell you when or how to write, those are things you have to figure out for yourself. I will say that I don't really get to write when I would choose to write if I could choose to do it at a time of my choosing. There are too many things that get in the way. Like kids. But, when I have time for it, I do it. And, I'm finding, it gets easier and easier to do whenever I am choosing to do it.

A lot of people will tell you that you have to treat it like a job. Treat writing like a job. And, on this point, they're correct. When you sit down to write, treat it like a job. That means that you do it despite your feelings and you work on what needs to be worked on even if you'd rather be writing something else. Just like at work where you have to do what needs to be done despite how you feel about it. Yes, it takes discipline and practice, but it's a point you have to arrive at if you ever want to have any real success with your writing.

Now, having said all of that, I will point out, again, that every writer has to figure out what works best for him/her. I know of at least one writer (okay, I only know of one, but he proves the exception to the rule) that treats the whole writing thing as a hobby. He says that if it was at all like work to him that he wouldn't do it at all, because work is not fun, and writing is fun, and he does it because it's fun. And he seems pretty good at completing projects. I do, however, think he's the exception (yes, Briane, I'm looking at you), not the rule. Most of us just can't work that way. [For instance, my hobby is painting miniatures (you can see examples of some by clicking my crafty tab). I haven't done any painting in at least 3 years.]

I'll also throw in that how you handle your blog, if your blogging is related to your writing, reflects on your writing. If you're blogging to support your writing (in whatever way or form), your blog is the lens through which the world will perceive your other written works, so you have to come at it just like you do your other writing. If your blog is just something fun you do, it doesn't matter so much. But, really, the whole blogging thing is a separate topic that I may get around to posting about at some point.

I'm also gonna add that writer's block is just what happens when you sit down and wait for inspiration to happen first. You're better than that. So, like I tell me son, "Just start writing!" Just sit down and do it. Do worry about what it is that you're putting down, just start writing. It'll work itself out as you go, and you can always go back and spruce up those first few sentences or whatever you did while you were getting warmed up. Don't over think it. Don't fret about it. Don't try to figure it all out. Just sit down and start. Yes, do it now. Just start writing...

13 comments:

Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman said...

I find I usually get more involved in writing once it gets warmer. For one thing I like writing outside on Saturdays and also when it's all cold and sloppy outside I just want to stay indoors under a blanket.

Of course I know someone else who's just too busy watching TV and Prometheus trailers to write...

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

@Grumpy: Hah. You do realize that you are the only person that thinks you're funny, right?

Jennifer said...

Very good advice. Sometimes I just write and honestly I always feel better afterwards. Even if whatever it is that came out on the page is going to end up in my trash bin I still have to purge out the junk to get to the good stuff. Have a great day!

Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman said...

@Michael: What's your point?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Writing is like love - it's an action, not a feeling. Beginnings are difficult for me sometimes, but if I really want to accomplish something, I just have to do it.
Writing started as a hobby for me. It became a job when fans demanded a second book. They will get three, because this still isn't a career I want to pursue full time.

L.G.Smith said...

It's not so much that I need to be in the mood to write. I'm pretty good at sitting down at the computer and jumping in. What I need in order to write is an emotional connection to the subject matter. I can't write well about something I don't care about. Even for the blog I have to find that connection to a topic before I can write it down. I can't just pick a topic out of a hat and say I'm going to write about it, not if I aint feeling it.

Rusty Webb said...

Good advice. If someone wants to be a short story writer then I think waiting for inspiration might work. Novels though, you're right, if you don't take a workmanlike attitude it'll take a lifetime to get it done. Makes me think of a book I read a few years ago, Edgar Sawtelle, I think, it took the guy 10 years to write it. 10 YEARS!

Here's the thing, it was a retelling of Hamlet, I could tell from early on that there was a familiarity to the story as it developed, but it became very obvious later on. So I figure, if all he was doing was retelling a story that is already plotted out for him, why so long? Grumpy could have knocked that one out over a long weekend.

I don't know where I was going with that. It seemed relevant when I started.

Rachel Pudelek said...

When I'm in the throws of writing a book, I try to write daily. And the mood doesn't matter. There's been times when I've written and I REALLY didn't feel like it. I thought the writing was crap, and then someone reads my novel and tells me that that part was their favorite. Go figure!

A Beer for the Shower said...

It all comes down to what your aims are, I think. Does writing make you happy/do you have the NEED to do it? Then write as often as fulfills you. Do you want to make a profession out of it? Then you should probably at least somewhat treat it like a job. Not in the "goddammit I have to do my writing or I'm fired" kind of mindset, though. It's got to be a positive thing. Especially these days. The traditional market is so brutally hard to breach that there are damn few "accidental superstars" being published these days. I really believe that a professional mindset is a must, at least half of the time. Then again, I have been known to be full of crap before.

Sarah Pearson said...

With me, it's not the writing I have to make myself do, it's the revising. I'd much rather knock out another first draft than fix the ones I've already got, but if I keep on like that I'll never have anything finished.

I've told myself no more first drafts until I've made at least one pass. It's painful but I'm sticking to it.

Arlee Bird said...

I agree with you on this. Sometimes if I'm not in the mood to write certain things I'll just make myself write about something different. That's the beauty of blogging--if I don't feel like writing something I'm working on and just start writing something on my blog. Or I might start writing comments or emails. It's also somewhat of a curse, but I won't go into that here. But it's all writing and the act usually puts me in a proper frame of mind to write.


Lee
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Briane P said...

My blogs mostly ARE my writing. But I agree with you. If you want to make a living at writing, you have to write on a schedule, or you'll put it off or otherwise treat it like a hobby.

My job is on a schedule. My workouts used to be on a schedule before I got lazy. My writing is on a schedule. That's how you can tell I take it seriously. TV watching? Not on a schedule. I do it when I can.

One benefit of a schedule: If you say "I'm going to write 1 hour per day, first thing in the morning" (more or less what I do), then the rest of the day you're free to do something else. Absent a schedule, you'll feel like you should ALWAYS be writing and may never get around to it, because you can always do it later. It'll be both burden and neverending task.

As for me, I have a pretty strict rotation for what blogs I write on and when I write on them and how. I don't always follow it, but it makes sure that I give attention to the ones that most need it and by "most need it" I mean "are most profitable."

(I make more money off my blogs than my 'outside' writing.)

Some days, I look at my schedule and think "Eh, I'd rather not," but I force myself to write SOMETHING on those days and I usually enjoy it.

Andrew Leon said...

Grumpy: I tend to be fairly oblivious to the weather/seasons.

Michael: heh heh

Jennifer: Yeah, it's kind of like photography that way. You have to take a lot of pictures to get a few really perfect shots.

Grumpy: Does he need one?

Alex: I like that you said that. So many people get all wrapped up in emotions and how they feel, but, really, everything comes down to an action.

L.G.: That's interesting. I think I need to care about the writing itself, not the subject matter.

Rusty: Yeah, that's kind of ridiculous. But so is Martin taking 3 years to write one of his books.

Rachel: Yeah, it can be that way; that's part of why we need to do it no matter how we feel at the time.

ABftS: Well, that's true. You really have to know -why- it is you want to write before you start doing it. If it's just for fun and you're going to do it no matter what, in other words, for your own benefit, none of what I said really matters. But, if you are trying to write books that will be published (in whatever form), you have to do it.

Sarah P: Oh, yeah, I get you there... I HATE editing. Really. And I hate more having to re-write something already written.

Arlee: That's true. It's important to be writing -something-.

Briane: You mean, you can make a living at writing? I thought that was a myth! :P
What's a schedule? I'm unfamiliar with this term.

I'm very curious as to how much you make from blogging.