The Writing Life: Writing as an Exercise

Part of writing is persisting when you’re not feeling particularly up for it: you’re tired, distracted, unsure, stuck, maybe even bored and wanting to move on, but no, you’ve got to write that next page.

Sometimes I’ll just go to bed.

Other times I’ll get a cup of tea, play a few racks of pool, procrastinate.

And yet other times, like now, I’ll just sit down and type anyway, and see what falls out. It doesn’t have to be inspired, but it should at least be true. True to how you’re feeling at the time, anyway.

When I’m writing fiction that is harder – it is difficult to write a scene in which your character is supposed to be on fire with emotion when you the writer are feeling like a wrung out dishrag.

But amazingly, sometimes if you just start, your dishrag prose can start to smoulder, your brain light up, and the character can indeed catch fire once again. And no, I’ve never read the Hunger Games.

Make a game of it, decide that you’re going to make the next sentence run on far too long, just for the fun of it, knowing that later you’ll probably break it up because when you get to reading it out loud you might run out of breath, no matter how many strategic commas you put in there. Or decide to be deliberately repetitive, repeating words just to go against the rules you read that told you not to be repetitious. Repetition sometimes has its place. It can drive home a theme, or a message, or a feeling. Not here, but if you choose the right words in the correct context, it can do wonders, and be fun for the reader – when the page is a kaleidoscope of endless, continuous variation, sometimes it is nice for the mind to rest in a familiar spot here and there. Never repeating things can be as bad as overdoing it, to my mind. And only you, the writer (and then your editors, hahaha!) can be the judge of that.

A lot of writing is feel. What feels natural to you, what feels dramatic, what feels intimate, empty, powerful, sorrow filled. Your own natural timing for scenes, conversations, fights and more are all at least initially a matter of feel. Yes you can find rules, be taught best practices, be shown formulas, but ultimately each writer makes their own decisions about how to implement them. Learn well, but don’t be afraid to let your own personality shine through, because otherwise we’d just be writing algorithms, not writers.

So just start writing, make it a game, try to surprise yourself, insert an unlikely word and make it work. Puissance is a great word to try to slide into a scene unobtrusively. Doesn’t really manage not to stick out, but in thinking about that you may have written a bunch of other stuff as its set up that will actually be worthwhile later! Because yeah, writers recycle, and not all the stuff you write, even when you are rested, ready, and inspired, makes the cut. So if even your best material can be put aside as stuff that might find a use later, so the writing you do to dig yourself out of a funk doesn’t have to feel bad if large chunks of it get stuffed into the recycling bin for potential use either. It goes right in next to the pieces you thought were going to be awesome. Or to put it another way not involving recycling: when you know even your best first draft will always be edited into better shape, why worry about the somewhat sub-par stuff the first time around, as it will also inevitably be elevated through editing too? Just write, and let your later self pick the diamonds from the rough. They might be surprised and impressed by what you wrote when you didn’t feel 100% as you started typing!

And of course, any writing is better than none. If you can’t approach the subject you really want to, approach another, just to keep the words flowing.

And finally, remember that perhaps making the writing muscle work when it doesn’t want to is the best way of all of strengthening it. I like that idea. Now I’m off to bed!

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