Original at Neil Gaiman’s tumblr:
You turn off your inner critic. You do not listen to your inner police force. You ignore the little voices that tell you that it’s all stupid, and you keep going.
Your grade isn’t suffering because your writing is bad, it’s suffering because you aren’t finishing things and handing them in.
So, finish them and hand them in. Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.
You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.
If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.
Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.
Blaming “Writer’s Block” is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the “block”. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy.
But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing again.
This is what I read on a forum I occasionaly visit, dear reader.
Same problem as always… I have no idea how to start. I think the fact that I’ve been trying to write on my idea – on and off – for the past 11 years doesn’t help the situation very much…
… and I’m developing a cold. All things that don’t help very much
Perhaps this is something that many authors and writers suffer from, I have honestly no idea. But when I saw this, I had an idea. As almost always. I wrote, in response:
Do you have a bit of a view on how your idea in the story will go? For instance, suppose you are in it for a while, do you know of a situation that should arise, the people who are in it and what they should do, where they should be, what they want to achieve?
(If not, can you think one up?)
You do not have to start writing your story at the beginning. Jump over that difficult part, start writing from where it should already be flowing, and go on from there. Oel omum futa this is a strange way of doing it, but it has already helped several people I know.
Important thing is to get going, shape the situation, build the environment. And if all goes as planned, you may get an idea on how to build backwards towards the start.
3. The girl looked around and did not know how to get out of the forest.
4. A car approached and stopped. The driver found her.
5. In the hospital she discovered she had lost her purse.
2. The girl was happy with the purse she got from grandma and hurried home, taking a shortcut through the forest.
6. The driver went to look for her purse and found it in the bushes.
1. A girl got a call from grandma, who asked if she could come see her. (Look here, we have a start!)
7. The girl and her purse lived happily ever after.
I do admit that I did not offer any advice on how he could cure his cold, but there are other people with more knowledge for that. I just hope my advice gets him somewhere.
Strangest request ever (so far). A friend called me and asked if I could help an author friend of hers. This author lady hit writer’s block and hopes I can help her through that. Oy. I thought up a few things and sent them to her. She said they actually seem to work!
I’m going to list here what I advised her to do. This is not a prescription that will work for anyone, it is just something I thought of.
What I told her to do:
– write down a number of key words on the subject you are trying to write about. Write a word on a separate line and add some white space between the lines. No need to have the words make sense, random is fine.
– beneath that, write down a number of key words that are entirely unrelated to the piece you are trying to write about. Add the same amount of white space between those words. Again, random is fine, and don’t think about them.
– next thing to do is to just write down a few lines about how you feel about the piece you’re writing, even if it is not finished yet. Is it fun to write about? Does it fascinate you? Do you hate it? Curse all you want if you need, these lines are just for you. Loosen up your emotions.
Now you go back to the key words. Pick one and write a short sentence that relates to the word. It is not important if it is a word that connects to the piece or not, just write something. Even if it is a nonsense sentence.
Wait a few minutes. Do something entirely different than writing. Then come back and tackle another word. Now take one from the other category (the non-related if you did a related word or vice versa). Write a sentence with / about that. Then you return to the sentence you wrote before this one. Is it a good one? Stupid? If you see something you can improve, change that in this sentence.
Repeat this exercise with each word. Leave it for a bit, tackle the next word, and look at the previous sentence (just go back one word, not all of them). Again, it does not matter what you write, just that you write. If you think that a sentence is okay, leave that and take on another word, another sentence. Once you handled all the words and sentences, try and add a new sentence to each block/word, in the same way.
It is important to keep yourself going with this. Also note that this is meant to be a fun exercise. Be silly if you want, and only slowly change things towards what you are trying to achieve. There should not be any pressure. Pressure will lock you down again and make this exercise a complete waste of time.
When you are able to make all these sentences, and at a certain point you wipe all of them together, you already have a lot of material to work from. To expand. To write your book from.
When you hit a brick wall with these words, think up some more key words. Try to find them from different perspectives, like a person inside the story (if it is a story), or a narrator, an observer, the protagonist, or the antagonist. If you write something non-fiction, try to find ways into it with other words, from other viewpoints, from old and young people, from interested ones and from those who don’t care. And do not forget to also write the nonsense words, because they are important. They are meant to distract your mind. They force you to look at things in another way.
Let me add that this all happened several weeks ago. And yesterday I received an e-mail from her that she finished the book and did so well within the deadline.