Monday, November 29, 2010

On Writing and Willfulness

Sometimes, even though I love to write, it's hard for me to just sit down and make myself do it. And when I do finally reach the point of more or less chaining myself to my laptop and forcing my fingers to plunk out word after word, it almost feels like a chore.

It shouldn't, right? I mean, I love writing. It's what I want to do with my life, in some way or another. So why is it so hard for me sometimes?

Is it just because I'm lazy? Or is it because I'm afraid?

Sometimes I think it's both.

There are days where I sort of feel the urge to write, but I'm distracted. I keep thinking of other things I could be doing—or other things I should be doing. Being a student clashes with being a writer sometimes. I want to sit down and work on a piece, but all I can think about is that research paper I should start. Or finish. Or perfect. Or the video I need to watch so that I can answer those questions over it that will be discussed in class. Or the book I should be reading in case of a pop quiz. (Or how I'm so tired of doing homework and reading for school that during my free time I just want to throw myself onto the couch, switch on the TV, and mentally vegetate for a little while...)

I know education is important. If I didn't think that, I sure wouldn't be putting so much money, time, effort into it. I want that degree, don't get me wrong. But sometimes, especially when it concerns busy work, or work that I see as absolutely irrelevant to the things I want to do in my life (*coughMATHcough*), it's really hard to justify stifling a creative urge to look up congressional election statistics.

But other times, I think homework or laziness or lack of inspiration are just excuses. Poor, pitiful little excuses made up by a person who doesn't really want to admit to being afraid.

It's like I expect to never write garbage. Not ever, not any time. And that's just not feasible. Or realistic.

Brings to mind Ernest Hemingway's famous quote—
"The first draft of anything is shit."

I don't always believe that's true, but at the same time...there's definitely some truth in it. In other words, it doesn't make sense to put so much pressure on myself. It's not like I'm doing something wrong if I don't sit down and spill out a masterpiece in a few hours with no edits.

In a way, I think that's what I love so much about NaNoWriMo. It's one of the few times that the absolute insanity of the deadline creates an excuse in and of itself to not think too much or too hard about what I'm writing and instead to focus o the act of writing itself. To get the idea down, to flesh the story out. Editing is for later.

I've always been told that oftentimes the pieces that end up getting cut out of manuscripts are the pieces that the author loves the most. I never understood how that could be—how a scene or series of events favored by the author could somehow not fit in the story they created.

But you know what? It's true. I found this out myself in a longer piece I'm working on. The section I wrote that I felt was the strongest, that I was the most proud of, doesn't actually fit anywhere in the story. It's kind of mind-boggling, really. It probably sounds just about as crazy (especially to someone who isn't a writer, or who doesn't know any personally) as when I try to explain that just because I created a character doesn't mean I have complete control over what they do. But it's true. If you create a character, give him or her a lot of depth, background, personality, you'll start to find there are things they just won't do. It can be very tiresome when trying to write a scene in which your character just...isn't havin' it. But it happens.

Sidenote: I just watched a really great movie with my Mom over Thanksgiving break. It's called Miss Potter (about the woman who created the lovable Peter Rabbit) and there's a scene in this film that reminds me of what I just mentioned. She's talking to her illustration, which is misbehaving, and she says something along the lines of, "You better stop that, or I'll write you out!"

Anyway, that's the point of NaNoWriMo. To just get the story out, I mean. The idea is that unless you get it written down, you'll never have anything to edit. I'm constantly having to remind myself of that. Because all too often, even if I have the urge to write, if I get the feeling that I don't know where the story is going, or that I'm too tired or distracted to put my whole heart in it, I start to tell myself it's better if I just abandon the idea for the moment. But that's not the case. Some of the better stories I've written have come at times when I'm grasping for inspiration. It's always a very pleasant surprise.

So my advice to any of you out there with aspirations to write and anxieties about when and where to do it—the best methods, the tricks of the trade—would be simply this.


Because if you don't start there, if you don't start with a blank page and pour words out onto it, you'll never have anything. And if you never have anything, you sure as hell won't ever have anything great.


Matt Bukaty said...

It's so true. We face the same problems in writing music. ESPECIALLY in film scoring...I've had to remove a lot of music that I just loved. It sucks. But they also tell us not to get attached to anything we write, because that'll happen all the time. Not so much in concert music still happens, especially if you're a good self-editor...which I've had to become unfortunately.

And I don't think it's laziness or fear that keeps us from writing. Sometimes you just have to NOT. School just has a tendency to make the "not" so much easier. Damn school.

-Pushi <----- HA!

Christopher Fryer said...

I completely agree with your ideas about writing. It's probably one of the hardest things to do, yet I love every second of it (when I finally start doing it). If life wasn't so crazy these days, I would've tried NaNoWriMo. What I need is that isolated lake-side cabin situation and a few months of quiet. Sometimes real life clouds the mind a bit too much for the fingers to form the words.

But the good thing about writers who truly love writing is that they'll always be thinking of the world in terms of stories, absorbing the world, creating plot-lines... And one day they'll sit down and turn all of those experiences into stories on the page.

So good luck with the writing. I've been following along with your blog for a while now and it's been good inspiration to keep listening to my muse, even while the universe seems to be shouting in my ear.

Sarah said...

@Matt—I think it's so handy that our chosen career aspirations are just one other way we have things in common. We both write, just not in the same medium. And as such, we face a lot of the same problems! Writer's block, lack of inspiration, fussy muses, and, of course, getting attached to our favorite pieces!

I'm still working on becoming a good self-editor. I mean, I'm good at...editing. But I still put it off...kind of a lot.

And you're probably right about school making NOT writing such an easy option. Although I do think, at least for me, it can also be laziness and/or fear. I mean, I have Tuesdays and Thursdays OFF. You'd think I could make myself sit down and write those days... *facepalm*

Pushi! HA! That's awesome. Not as good as "wifeless" though. If you ask me. ;-)

Sarah said...

@Christopher—I totally agree! I would love a lake-side cabin with a view, nature for neighbors, and a big porch where I could sit with a cup of coffee and just write. Oh, that would be bliss! Real life definitely tends to get in the way.

And you're right; even on the busiest, most hectic days, I'm still thinking of stories, or how to use life situations in stories. There will always be those of us who see the world that way.

Good luck to you, too! And thanks for following along. I'm glad it's been good inspiration! If all else fails—when in doubt, WRITE!


Jen said...

Love this post.

After recently leaving a job in "journalism" I realized the best thing it taught me about writing was to do it when I don't "feel like it." To make myself put a few words on paper, because I'll almost always be surprised that more will follow if I'll just commit those first few.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And good luck with school. It sucks, I know, but just developing the discipline of (ahemMath) will help a lot I suspect. Granted this is coming from a girl who had to review a lot of city budgets in order to be a "Staff writer," but still.