Writing is hard. It just is. As the saying goes, people don’t like to write, they like to have written. I can’t speak for all writers, but when I can’t create, it’s not because I hate the act. I love writing, by my struggle to keep writing stems from overthinking. I’m always worried that what I type won’t be good enough. My mind becomes overrun with self doubt like:
This character’s motives are all over the place.
The setting isn’t be used properly.
The setting doesn’t make sense.
This dialogue is cheesy
The flow is too slow
The flow is too fast
What if this scene doesn’t turn out the way I envisioned it in my head?
What if this entire project is cliche?
Self doubt destroys creativity. Much like a wild fire, it starts small. Maybe someone dropped a cigarette and it steadily singes the grass around it. This could be stopped, if someone were nearby or observant. If someone simply stepped on it, then they could keep moving forward in a fire free field until another cigarette fell and they’d have to step on that one too. If this doesn’t take place then what starts off as a trail of smoke transforms into a sea of flames. It gets out of hand quickly and once that fire finds it’s legs and runs, it’s nearly impossible to stop it. All you can do is wait for it to pass and sweep away the ash. Try to plant something new in the burnt fields it left.
It’s difficult for me to get past the self doubt and I’ve let it burn away my creativity a few times. I think being creative makes us over thinkers by default. Your imagination runs a little wild for better or worse, but there are ways to live with it. I usually put on music so I can get lost in a scene or I tell myself to at least finish one page instead of quitting altogether. These are little things, but doesn’t Smokey the Bear tell us that we are the ones who can stop a forest fire? Maybe that starts with small steps.
How do you guys feel about using intricate descriptions in your writing? I know they’re useful, but there is such a thing as too much detail. I could write in detail about the way the light hits the ocean at sunrise for ages, but no one would want to read it. As a reader I’ve skipped over passages that are nothing more than a long winded discussion on the appearance of a forest because I wanted to get on with the plot.
When I write I always look for key details that the reader needs to know and (as painful as it can be sometimes) cut what’s unnecessary. Then I tweak what I left in so that my descriptions appear intricate, but remain sparse. I do this by swapping out what multiple descriptions for stronger adjectives that pop and take up less space. Now I can describe that ocean without rambling on for a page and a half while my protagonist is on pause.
I try to do the same with filler words or adjectives that aren’t doing much for the narrative. Instead of saying, “she stood before a grand building” why not replace two words with one. I could say, “she stood before a cathedral” or “she stood before a museum”. I think as writers we want to write. We want to create a intricate word garden with detailed settings and filler adjectives to spruce it up. Only we don’t need to go overboard and create a maze from extra words that are diverting readers from the plot. A humble garden is best by taking out the fluff and growing sentences with real roots. Ones that will stand the test of time without distracting viewers from the house (plot) beside it. I’m a wordy writer, but I like the way my work looks once it’s tidied up. As beautiful as long winded descriptions can be, there should always be more focus on character development and arcs.
What are your opinions on description? Is there a time and place for the long winded depiction?
When the holidays roll around, most people plan themed movie marathons to match the season. When it’s Halloween, it’s time for film with ghosts, monsters, cemeteries, or costume parties. I’m definitely one of those people because I already have a stack of DVD’s I’m ready to watch over and over again. Do people do the same for reading though?
When I think of a good fall book, I think of Ray Bradbury. I read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” for the first time in October when I was a freshman in college. I also remember reading “The October Country” around the same time partly because I was discovering how amazing Bradbury was and partly because those books fit the spirit of autumn so well.
Lately, I don’t have a lot of time to read for fun, which is why I’ve been turning to poetry and flash fiction. I want more short pieces that have something to do with either the autumn season or the spooky side of October. I recently read “October Coat” by Maggie Stiefvater and loved it. The first few paragraphs alone give this vivid and raw description of the essence of early October that I’ve been trying to capture in my own work.
I’ve noticed that a lot of poems I’ve written for class lately are about autumn because I’ve been craving that reading material. The novella I’m working on takes place in summer, but all I want to do is write about pumpkin patches, foggy mornings, chills in the air, and possibly a few haunted houses or abandoned carnivals. Although, taking a break from larger projects to play around with themes of the season can be wonderful writing practice and I have a problem with writing too much flash fiction in my spare time.
Do you have any favorite October readings and/or do you try to write for the season around this time of the year?
If you’re someone who loves to write, you can write almost anywhere at anytime. It doesn’t matter what the world may look like outside your window – maybe the sun is setting or just beginning to creep up over the horizon for a nice hello. Maybe the ground is buried beneath a pale, chilling glitter or mosquitoes and other insects cling to the window screen as you go into chapter 5. I can write all year round, but there’s still a certain type of weather that inspires me to do more. When I wake up in October to a brisk air drifting through my rain spattered window under an overcast sky, I must write. It’s the perfect weather for writing and it would be a shame to waste it.
I can’t explain what makes it so perfect, but I love it. There’s this cozy aspect of so it makes me want to stay curled up in my bed with the soft glow of my laptop. If this type of weather happens on a Sunday, even better because there’s nowhere I need to be. I’m free of obligations so I can immerse myself into typed stories. Sometimes I’ll even drive down to a coffee shop and grab a warm drink and a muffin to keep me going as I settle in for the morning. I feel a stronger connection to my characters and plot. Maybe it’s because I feel the most at peace during these rainy, October Sundays. They take my mind off anxieties and the news so I can place more focus on my passions. I can put more thought into the things that bring me joy.
Everyone knows that phrase uttered in every creative writing course. The famous, “write what you know.” This is solid advice for writers both new and experienced. My only problem is that people tend to take it at a face value. They assume they should only write about plots or settings that they know well. If that were the case, then fantasy and sci-fi wouldn’t exist. I doubt J. R.R. Tolkien truly experienced a trek to Mordor.
Writing what you know doesn’t always have to be a place. Sometimes putting qualities you see in yourself or those around you into your characters is writing what you know. Sometimes looking at the way people speak to one another or the way emotions are handled in times of stress or happiness is writing what you know. To create a character who breathes, it helps to be perceptive on the way real people think and act.
When I write, I tend to give my cast a few of my own flaws. This normally happens organically, but once I pick up on those characteristics I start to explore them. Since I know this trait firsthand, it becomes easier to write someone with the same faults or personality quirks.
I have a character I’m writing now who is a “golden boy.” He feels a great deal of pressure to make something of himself and he’s terrified of what will happen if he amounts to nothing. Yet, no one else in his personal life has placed this stress on him. His friends and family don’t care if he becomes someone important or not. Fame doesn’t mean much to any of them because they’re content with just finding happiness even if that means living a simple life. The sad thing is, he sees this and he understands this, but that stress just gnaws at him. He’s created this pressure himself and now he’s stuck with it.
This is an aspect of me. This is something I’ve gone through my whole life and am still dealing with. I just hope people find that rawness to the classic golden boy character. I know that when I fall in love with characters, I fall for ones who have this underlining realness to them.
When you write, don’t assume you’re tied to one place because you want to draw from your own life. Think about yourself. Think about the people you see everyday. Look at those characteristics and write them. Let your characters breathe.
Write what you know.
This post sounds and will be awfully geeky, but hear me out. No matter how many projects a writer might have going on, there is always time to work on improving their skill. After all, how can you master an art if you never take the time to practice it? One of the best things about writing is that there are a lot of creative ways to get better at it, and one of those ways is through fanfiction.
I’ll admit it, I wrote fanfiction when I was maybe 10 or 11 before I knew what it was. Then I grew older, learned it was a real thing, and kept my distance from it. I didn’t consider it real writing, and I already felt geeky enough so I didn’t want to add “fanfiction writer” to the list. That was until about a year ago when I wanted to try out different writing styles, but couldn’t come up with a good practice prompt. Normally, I’ll play around with flash fiction for this, but I wanted to work on generating short stories. Somehow fanfiction came to mind so for the first time in 14 years, I opened up a blank Word document and wrote one.
Oddly enough, it worked. The benefit of using this form as writing practice is that the characters and universe are already set up for you. Unless you want to practice worldbuilding, having an existing universe helps you focus more on style, voice, and general writing. Think of it like a prompt where the rest is already there for you. Now it’s easier to pinpoint areas you want to work on while having fun along the way.
The nice thing about fanfiction is that it means you’re revisiting a story you love, and all that reminiscing can bring forth forgotten inspiration. Maybe it will remind you how you fell in love with the narrative or what about that universe drew you in. Those tiny reminders take you back to where that creative inspiration is rooted. It also provides you a bit of fun because, if you’re anything like me, you take your main projects way too seriously sometimes. Fanfiction lets you play and have fun with writing again. It’s silly, but that’s what turns it into a great activity. You don’t have to take the pieces too seriously since it won’t be for publication, which opens up a lot of creative freedom.
So remember that old movie, book, or TV series you loved? Go write it. Have some fun while improving your art along the way!
Editing while writing: good or bad? Most of us are told to write it all down and then edit to avoid getting stuck in one place. To me, it’s like hiking that way because you plan to go down one specific trail. You have the map, supplies, everything for this trail and this trail only. Sure, you may see other paths along the way. Some might look more appealing, and you may think about backtracking to try one out. The problem is you don’t want to get lost. If you spend too much time on one path, you might not find your way back to the original one. Or you might get distracted and linger too long on one trail to a point where you’re no longer headed anywhere. Then it’s night, you’re lost, a wolf may or may not have just howled nearby, and your story is trapped in a purgatory where it will never be finished.
The last part of that scenario is why people avoid editing during the writing process. No one wants to get lost, but remaining on a path you don’t like can also damage a story. In my experience, editing while writing isn’t always harmful. If I didn’t edit chapters or scenes, I would have kept going down a beaten path instead of exploring uncharted territory.
I don’t write like a normal person. I open a blank Word document and just go with whatever idea is running through my head. There’s never an outline, I just write and see where it goes. This technique works for me, but I do come to stand stills within my work. There are moments where I’m not sure what should come next or the story is heading into a place that I have no interest in visiting. At times like this I go back to read through what I’ve already written so I can edit what I feel needs to be edited.
In my current project there was a scene I loathed entirely. I had trouble getting through the next few chapters because I kept thinking of this one section that was gnawing at me. So I went back, read through from the beginning, highlighted the infamous scene, and deleted it. Then I rewrote it, still hated it, and wrote it a third time. It ended up becoming something entirely different that actually set up the rest of what I had in a much cleaner fashion. This also made the writing process less frustrating, which is always a bonus.
Through this process I have a better understanding of where my story is rooted, and I often remember details that can be lifesavers in terms of character development and plot. It’s fine to keep yourself on one trail, but sometimes the one you start with isn’t the one you want to stay on. The hiking experience is more rewarding when you allow yourself some exploration. Those alternative paths can lead to amazing views that can be missed if you wait too long.