Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Back in the swing of things

Some time ago, numinicious asked: Got any suggestions for getting back my creative writing groove, after several months of letting ideas and plots fester in my mind because I haven't the time to write and it now seems so much like a chore rather than a hobby? Other than quitting college? ;]

Umm. First thing is context: numinicious, for those of you who don't know her, is early in her college career and is at the traditional age for such things, which makes absolutely no difference, except when it totally does. So this post is specifically not addressed to those of you who -- oh, let's take an example we can pretend is random -- have a couple of books published and are wondering how to get back into writing from there. I do not know what to tell you and wouldn't presume to try. If I say something useful to you in this post, great, but you're not the intended audience.

And the second is, I'd ask why you want to do this. There are people in this field who firmly believe that anyone who can be discouraged should be, and I totally disagree with that. I see no reason to believe that writing ability correlates well with an upbeat, stubborn personality. I'd like to think I have both, but I don't think that generalizing myself into the Platonic form of writerhood is a good idea for anybody, particularly me.

So I don't mean, "Why do you want to do this?" as a question to discourage. If you think and think and can't come up with a reason (note: this does not have to be a logical reason -- "I like it" is a reason, as is "there are people in my head, and I want them to go away"), maybe you should go off and try other things for awhile and come back and see if you have a reason in three months, or six, or in a year.

The key question here is not, by the way, "Why do I want to be a writer?" Because we're not talking about Being A Writer. There is a lot less of Being A Writer in the world than some people would like -- less book-signing, less fan mail, less respect from those annoying kids in the seventh grade who made fun of you for wanting to be a writer and now see the error of their ways.* What you're thinking about doing is writing, which is much different than Being A Writer. Being A Writer involves things like running your fingers obsessively over the spine of the book that has your name right there on it! right there! sometimes even embossed! But writing, writing is what you actually have to do, day in and day out. Very few people consider Being A Writer sufficient reason to, y'know, write. Writing has to have its own reasons, or it'll collapse under its own weight. But if you figure out why you want to do it in the first place, knowing that might help with actually moving forward.

(Within the last couple of weeks, someone on my friendslist who is very smart quoted someone else who is very smart as saying that the only people who should write fiction are those who are absolutely compelled to do so. I think that both the originator of this statement and the person who quoted it are very smart, and also wrong: the second category of people who should write fiction are those who have a damn good time doing it. Not every minute of every day for any of us, of course, but it can be fun, and I don't think we should forget that. I think this is why so many writers in their early careers turn to fanfic: because they have a great time doing it, and other people have a great time reading it, and that's no small thing.)

So...you know why you want to write a story -- even, ideally, why you want to write this particular story -- and it's still just not coming. You haven't written in a long time, and wanting to write isn't enough to get the swing of things back. I guess for me the next step is to try something, and if it doesn't work, to try its opposite. Write on your computer at home. If that doesn't work, write with paper and pen at the library. On your laptop at a coffeehouse. Whatever you've got. If you've been trying to write late at night and it isn't working, do it in the early morning or at lunch instead. Do it after working out instead of before; do it while eating instead of before or after. Outline obsessively; fly by the seat of your pants. Write long, loving descriptive passages you don't intend to include in the final manuscript; sketch in the barest details of action as though you're giving stage direction. Read compulsively in the genre you're writing in; read compulsively in some other genre completely. Write in sequence; write out of sequence; write directly backwards.

And getting back to numinicious's context for a minute: different periods of one's life are more and less conducive to writing. This is just a fact. Sometimes you can push through the less conducive periods by cleverness or sheer bullheadedness, but there will always be a circumstance in which you will not be able to write -- genuinely unable, not just making excuses. There is always "comatose" to fall back on if you are unable to imagine not being able to write in any other state, but less drastic illnesses will certainly do it.** Life changes will do it. Other commitments will do it. I wrote my first novel under a pile of other life stuff going on, but only one or two more things added to the pile would have made it physically impossible. One of the things I've had to learn over and over is that we only have so much to give. Some people will tell you that one's writing should always come first. They are wrong and, unlike the people quoted above, stupid. There are all kinds of good reasons why writing shouldn't come first in specific cases. Being an unloving jerk will probably not make you a better writer, and if it does, it's not worth it. Mostly it's a false dichotomy, and one you should reject.

College is a major life change. So is grad school, if you decide to do it. So is leaving school for the first time in your life -- or for the next time in your life, or for the last time in your life. Having a baby, moving, finding or losing a permanent partner...the list goes on and on. But for numinicious in specific, being a college student is not like anything else. It's not like being a high school student, really, and it's not like being a grad student or being out of school, either. It takes awhile to change life circumstances, to settle into the new ones. Sometimes this means one's creativity explodes, and if so, one is lucky. Sometimes it means one goes into a dry doldrums. This happens. Dry doldrums are not forever. This too shall pass.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself as a writer, but also be kind to yourself as a person. If you want to write and are not writing, do not berate yourself. Very few people become better writers by telling themselves how worthless they are, or how lazy, or how pretentious, or that they do not deserve to call themselves writers. Very few people become better people by these means, either. Add me as a data point: tried it. Didn't work. Ask the rest of my friendslist, too, and I'll bet other people can speak up with plenty of experience in this type of self-flagellation, very little of it productive.

So...change things up. Keep track of what you tried and how it worked; don't be afraid to go back to things that didn't work for you before, because you're not the same as you were then. Even if it feels like you haven't changed in ages, being someone who does something for four years is very different from being someone who does it for four weeks.

It's okay not to be a writer. Some of the people I love best in the world are not now and never will be writers. But it's also okay to be a writer who works in fits and starts, or a slow-starting writer, or a writer who is taking a break from writing, to do something else worthwhile or just to recharge.

If you have the time, and you have the energy, and you have the desire, and the things you want to write aren't coming, just write something silly. Write something fun. I know someone who started writing stories that were essentially himself and one of his buddies wandering around having adventures, and they sold like crazy, and now he is a big famous writer-person. (Or on his way at the very least. Wave to the nice people!) Write children's poetry about veggie meatballs who became deep-sea divers. Write fairy tales about a witch who turned people into marbles. Write science fictional commercials ("nobody doesn't like molten boron!").*** And if you're still not feeling it, go walk the dog or take pictures of your day or make me yourself cool creative presents. If you want to keep writing and keep enjoying it but it's feeling like a chore rather than a hobby, do other things that are hobbies until you miss writing the way you would miss them.

Some days I just want to grab everybody by the shoulders and look at them in the eye and say, "Be kind to yourself." Some of you would say, "Of course, and thank you! I think I will!" And I would say, "Umm. Can you be nice to me while you're at it?" And they would say, "Sure, have this very fine [walk|book|sorbet|e-mail|hug|lj comment]!" And I'm very grateful for you, because mostly what I'm telling numinicious here is projecting like mad, because I'm not very good at it myself yet. But I'm trying, and it's worth it. Really.

*These people are not likely to see the error of their ways. Trust me. They are much more likely to raise an eyebrow and curl a lip and say, "Oh, fantasy? I thought you'd have outgrown that unicorn thing you had." Or, "Oh, poetry? I didn't think anybody read poetry any more." Or, "Oh, mystery? I couldn't deal with that much, y'know, death and stuff." Or etc. Pick a field, and the people you hated in junior high will be able to sneer at it. Guaranteed. This extends past writing, by the way. If you become a nuclear physicist, they will sneer about your bomb-building, even though you will not build bombs because nuclear physicists don't do that. If you become a lawyer, it will be your ambulance-chasing; if a CEO, your crushing of workers beneath your heel; if a chef, they will equate your work with that of a fry cook or a busbeing. The people you hated in junior high cannot matter any more, or you will be miserable. This seems like such an obvious thing, and yet so people forget it so very often.

**Mental illnesses do, too, count. Anyone who thinks they don't count is invited to come over here so I can kick you sharply in the shins.

***If you do write any of these things, please send them to me or post them here. It will make me happy.
Tags: dad said to learn something, full of theories, life living
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