Monday, March 17, 2014

The Process

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything good.”—William Faulkner

I'm sure you've heard this already and heard it a hundred times until it doesn't mean anything anymore. Maybe that's a bad way to start an article, but you can't just know this advice, it has to be part of what you do. It's probably the single most fundamental element of doing anything creative, writing especially. It's this: writing is process.

So much depends upon . . .

You're going to—and you should—agonize over a first draft. I'm not telling you differently. You want it to make sense, you want it to be exciting, interesting, fun, all that and more. You want it to be like real writing, and you're not wrong in the least to strive for that. But know for a fact that you are not going to get there the first time. Every first time. Become at home with that fact. Own it. Writing is process. It can suck now if it has to. You'll make it better later.

Fear of writing the wrong words will paralyze you. That's what writer's block is, and that's all writer's block is. When you sit down to write for an hour and barely manage to drag out three or four sentences, each of which you have no faith in, it's awful. Don't be afraid to write the wrong words. Make mistakes. Write the wrong word because it's the only one you can think of now. If you get a silly idea that seems interesting but isn't what you intended and you're not sure if it will actually play out, write it anyway.

You cannot judge the merit of your writing until it is actually written. Get it down.

There is no one process. You write a thing, and then read it, and then either refine it, change it, or throw it away. Outline, first draft, second draft, final—whatever. That's a matter of preference. Experiment. Find whatever works for you, but embrace the principle of process. You cannot get away from it, and you shouldn't want to. Take comfort in it. It's your safety net. You don't have to get it right the first time, or the second. You just have to get it right eventually, and even then only once.

I know by the time you write to the end of a project, big or small, you'll be exhausted and you'll want so badly to be done. You won't want to write another word because you'll feel there aren't any other words. Know that isn't true. Put the stack of pages in a drawer and don't think about it for several months. Rest up. When you're ready, pick it up again, read it, and think. You wrote something from absolutely nothing. Now you actually have something to work with. It should be to your advantage.

The process isn't just about making writing better, it's also about making a better writer. Don't avoid it. Don't feel tied to your outline. Don't be trapped in a draft. There is no such thing as wasted effort. You didn't carve the words in stone, you wrote them to be changed. Don't be too quick to give rough work to a friend. Do your own thinking. As much of it as you can stand, anyway.

That's how you get better at this. That's the process.

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