It’s okay not knowing

How strange it is that a comfortable life can be a problem.

I don’t know about you but I remember when I just moved into my first apartment and took odd jobs as a substitute teacher I had the most fun being a writer. My life was uncertain, I didn’t know what to make of myself and somehow that translated well into my writing. 

Nowadays my life is secure and the job I have, although not the worst for a creative person, I’ve become weary of it. I want to do and see new things… I don’t think any creative person is satisfied with their condition. It’s a trap, if you let it and it becomes harder and harder to break up the monotony if you wait.  

At the same time, having a secure job gives you peace to write, but I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t mind living in poverty if it meant I could write and live.  

Sometimes things need to change and I fear I’ll live like I do now for the rest of my life if I don’t do something about it. 

A writer’s doubt

Procrastinating is a filthy word but a common one, we all do it, especially when you can’t get it right. I get scared to continue because I don’t want to face my inequities, that’s my excuse anyway, that’s what keeps me from writing.

And who can blame me? I have so many ideas to realise but I have finished none, no books anyway… Maybe I can’t? Maybe short fiction is for me and books are beyond my grasp? Perhaps scripts are better, they are easier, right? I don’t know… I’ve worked on too many stories for too long only to turn them away again and again. My instincts is all I can trust But what if my instincts are wrong? What can I put trust in then?

Perhaps I’m not listening well enough or not as often…

A creative mind is borderline insane, they say. We decided what’s true, where the border is. Maybe I’ll get it some day, but for the moment, I’ll stay glued to the screen with a warm cup of tea in my hands until I build enough courage to continue.

I just want it to be fun again

What is essential to the plot?

”A story is based on the merit on how much is removed.” I never understood this quote until I had to do it.

I recently had to remove a lot from a chapter because it was boring and irrelevant, though there were bits and pieces that I adored, and tried very hard to incorporate, it never fit in anywhere, as if it lost its place.

I don’t know if there’s any meaning to losing text like this or if it’s just a necessary step in my process to get to the good part.

Of course, some things are removed on purpose; backstories, for instance, rarely fit into the narrative but is essential nonetheless. The reader doesn’t need to know the backstory (not always) but the writer absolutely have to.

The more you decide not to include in the final product the more depth a story has and the more implicit things become which the writer can build upon.

At least, that is what I like to believe, that the many hours I spent on a segment is important even though it’s not included and somehow enriches the story instead if being relegated to the void where it came from.

Why do we make life harder than it has to be?

When you write a story you often come to a point where everything feels wrong. It physically hurts working on the it and you don’t know why. That is your cue to stop. You’ll try to fix it, of course, because you are stubborn, but why move the boulder that’s in the way when you can walk around it? 

Discard what you have written, at least parts of it, perhaps only a sentence or two that you feel stuck on, and start over and you’ll find the flow again. It’s not worth working against the grain.

We don’t know what we are doing anyway and we need to accept that.

I like to think of us as scribes recording stories from a long lost archive that’s in a language we can barely understand. We catch the general idea but we must fill in the blanks ourselves. 

Kill your darlings is the advice, I believe.

Why is it so hard?

Getting the paragraphs the way I want it is sometimes more work than actually writing the story! Why?! It’s slow and tedious with lots of rewriting.

It’s painful is what it is. It’s like I’m squeezing out the last drops from a yogurt or grinding out the last of the paste in my toothpaste before I throw it out and buy a new one, or in this case, start another story.

I cannot settle with just being okay because I know I can make it good. But listening to my gut gets harder the more I put on paper. It’s like I’m putting a web on the story that isn’t supposed to be there… Perhaps the pain is a sign that I’m doing it wrong or the pain is a sign that I’m on the right track? Nothing that matters is easy, after all. But I never imagined it would be so much work…

I genuinely wanna hear your thoughts on this, even if you are a plotter.

How can you write truefully?

The best writing comes when you are yourself, when you don’t have any expectations. That’s why it’s so difficult to write, not because you have high expectations to go big, if that’s the case then you do it for the wrong reason, or you’ve come so far into your career that that’s a whole other struggle, to not let the fame go to your head, but I digress. What is difficult to write is to stay true to yourself, especially when you’ve had a good writing session. What is your true self? you start to wonder, how do I write like this everyday? You try to find the secret formula, but there is none, it’s all in your head.

And honestly, it might not be as good as you think. I’ve had many times when I wrote a piece that I loved get torn apart by others and they were right to do so, because I didn’t convey my ideas well enough. The story is crystal clear to me, but not to others. That’s why I find it difficult to know when a story is ripe and ready to be shown…

I want it to be good, I want it to be finished but there a big gap between my mind and my fingers. It’s such a huge difference writing for yourself and for others and the dream is that they become the same thing.

How can you write truefully if you write for others anyway?

When the story becomes dull

I’ve talked about this before, but I really need to beat it into my brain so I don’t make the same mistakes again: I cannot separate plot from character, character is plot and they decide what happens. Granted, it’s good to have a general idea what’s going on, but I imagine that is just you pointing down a road that leads to where you want your characters to go. They are the ones deciding, however, if they’ll take a short cut, go back, take a rest; or move in a different direction entirely.

You are forbidden to help them and show the way.

So how do you make this happen in practise? Well, in my latest draft, I did it all wrong. I wrote very sparsely on purpose, meaning I left out a lot of things to add later because I was afraid I’d have to change things later anyway. But ironically, it’s only when I neglect to add things as they come that I end up having to change. No writer knows their characters from the get go. You learn about them as you write, which means you’ll have to put them in situations that force them to act and not have a predetermined result for them because then the characters are blank.

I suppose one could do a character sheet beforehand but who wants to do that? It’s boring and your characters will end up bland anyway.

To keep yourself entrained is a good rule of thumb. If the story becomes dull it’s you that have made the choices for them, you already know what will happen. And if you are bored, the readers are bored.

Write too much or too little

They say that it’s advisable to cut a significant portion of your draft before finalizing, that a lot of it is simply filler, but I have the opposite experience, I write too little. I’m rather lazy by nature so I usually don’t add more scenes than necessary and I focus on the plot as a whole rather than the story. When the plot is done then I go deep and focus on characters, which might not be a good idea because characters tend to change the plot…

On the other hand, working like this almost guarantees that I finish something because I’m not too concerned with the quality yet. I want to finish rather than make something perfect right away. This might be good for short stories, now that I think about it. Novels are a bigger commitment and not doing your best will just end up wasting your time.

In my experience, when I start getting into the meat of the story, I see before me a large pile of puzzle pieces. I got some of them pieced together already but I have to sort them out with trial and error. Sometimes there are other sets of puzzles in the mix which complicates things… There might be an issue with the idea when that happens. The story might be too vague and I have very little to work with so I try to borrow plots from everywhere, haha.

When you learn how to write

When learning how to write, I didn’t do it the right way. I started with flowery words and I just wrote from the heart without knowing what made a story.
Though, honestly, that’s probably the only way to start because the basics are boring. It would be like school all over again and you’d drop the pen as fast as you picked it up because there’s no teacher yelling at your back.
In any case, because I lacked the basics I abandoned my stories because something stopped me from finishing, my heart wasn’t enough. I wrote several unfinished novels until I decided ‘enough was enough’ and I would finish a project no matter the outcome.
I did pretty good like this, I wrote a couple of bad short stories and I didn’t fret too much that they were bad because at least they were fun to write. And I would never return to them and ‘fix’ them because they are part of my journey and I wouldn’t want to hide it.
But, as I turn towards the basics of storytelling, I feel like my writing has become dull. I wrote simply, very simply, almost barebones, just so that I could finish something. Finishing rather than abandoning, until I understood the medium and my way of doing things.
I’ll continue to crank out bad stories until I have the confidence to write like I did before, without guides or rules, completely trusting myself and my abilities.
Ignorance is bliss, but unfortunately, I’m not ignorant anymore!

I’m lazy, and so are you! Probably…

When writing, I’d much rather ignore a problem, hoping that it would solve itself, rather than tackle it head on. That is not to say I won’t do it eventually, but I’ve found it better to do it sooner rather than later…

For instance, if I write a story, I must always ask the question why; why did this happen? How does this affect the rest of the story?

When I try to answer these questions I discover new things about the plot, interesting and cool things that I would otherwise glance over. It’s not hard to spot these problems either, because you would FEEL that something is wrong, that something is missing. That’s why I believe stories exist independent from us and that we are just here to find them, I mean, otherwise you wouldn’t feel bad about skipping.

That’s why I think it’s important to be very selective when you pick what you want to work with, because when the story is vague in your head, there will be A LOT of work to find the missing pieces. But then again, therein lies the charm, the less you know the more there is to discover and I love to discover new shit.

Maybe if I sharpen my tools a bit it won’t be so difficult.