Doing it my way

Chuck Wendig has this to say:

You learn early on how to write. But for most authors it takes a long time to learn how they in particular write. Certain processes, styles, genres, character types, POVs, tenses, whatever — they will come more naturally to you than they do to others. And some won’t come naturally at all. Maybe you’ll figure this out right out of the gate. But for most, it just takes time — time filled with actual writing — to tease it out.

(Warning: the rest of the post at link, as well as nearly everything ever written by ol’ Wendig, is NSFW.)

So, Chuck is exactly right here. And this is one of the hard things for newbie writers to grok — or at least, it was hard for me to accept. There were lots of books written by Famous and Successful writers, people who have sold way, way more books and stories than I probably ever will, and they tell you the way to do it. And who are you to disagree?

(Actually, pretty much every writing book I’ve ever read says that you may do it differently. But eager young writers looking for the keys to the kingdom tend to overlook those.)

And in that vein, I’d like to tell a story about how I broke through five years of writers’ block.

I got two pieces of advice as a young writer. The first was not to just write one thing. Don’t just have The Novel that you work on for years and years and years, as that leads to stagnation and spinning your wheels on something that just isn’t gonna work. The second was to recognize that you have a million words of garbage to write before you write something worthwhile, so you should just accept the fact that your first n stories/novels are going to suck.

Unfortunately, these interacted in a really bad way in my head. My problem was that I had The Novel that I wanted to write. It had been occupying headspace in my thoughts for over a decade, and I loved it. But I knew I should write other things as well, and I knew that if I just plunged into The Novel without any experience it would probably suck. So I tried to write other things: short stories, flash fiction, and one or two novellas. None of them were bad, but none were very good. And then, after a while, my well of ideas (other than The Novel) dried up. I was blocked. I didn’t write anything at all for about five years.

Over this time I continued to think about The Novel, but I knew I still wasn’t good enough to write it properly. And I still felt the itch to write something, but I didn’t have the ideas and the motivation to work on anything else. Until, one day, I literally woke up and thought to myself, “Screw this. I’m just gonna write the novel.”

I wrote four chapters (about 50 pages) before I went to bed that day.

I finished the novel in 2-3 months. And guess what? It wasn’t very good. It wasn’t terrible, either, but all of the problems that the writing books said I would have showed up, especially bad pacing and flabby prose. I spent probably another year polishing it, and then a long time trying to submit it and get editors or agents interested. But they all turned it down, for very good reasons, and the book was eventually trunked.

But in the meantime something interesting happened: once I had actually written the big novel that had occupied my mind for so many years, I found I had lots of other stories to write. My writers’ block was destroyed by the simple act of writing the story that I wanted to write, and not worrying about doing it “right.”

That was several years ago. I will eventually return to that first novel and do it in the way that it deserves, but in the meantime I have lots of other things to write.


  1. — There were lots of books written by Famous and Successful writers, people who have sold way, way more books and stories than I probably ever will, and they tell you the way to do it. And who are you to disagree? —

    Sorry, you are wrong. The fact is that they are successful doesn’t mean they are doing it the right way. You can be different, disagree, disrupt them, sell at once more than they’ll sell at their’s lifetime.

    Actually, if you look closer, the most successful have started this way. Break the rules, be different, stay hungry and be foolish.

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