Friday, September 07, 2007

Sunday Scribbling: Writing Exorcism

(From here.)

I admit it. I am obsessed with writing. Every detail. Writing books are like magic beans—I keep reading and buying them in the hopes that eventually, I'll be able to grow a Novel Beanstalk. Someday, I'll write up a catalog of every writing book I own, for your amazement and (it's OK, you can admit it) envy.

For years, I tried to deny my desire to write. It was almost too innate—too predetermined. I wanted to go to college and discover a hidden talent, something to change my destiny. And I tried. Photography. Music. Media. Art. Dance. I had fun, sure, none of those forms were really me. I still longed to write above all things. I just didn't think I really could. I loved books so passionately, I could never do them justice. I felt like I was cursed with just enough talent to understand the stories I loved so much, but not enough to create any myself.

Despite my wholesale ingestion of every writing text I could get my hands on, I've never felt confident. Part of the problem is the books themselves, I imagine. I have a very hard time taking the templates they offer and applying them to my own work. Where are my inciting incident, my antagonist, my hero's journey? Not always sure. I am beginning to suspect that the formulas only make sense after you have written something.

But another problem is mine. I compare myself to the books, point by point, until I find a dissonance. Then I sigh and try to think of something practical to do with my life.

Well, no more. Here is my exorcism of the most destructive ideas I believe about writing. I hope that seeing them outside of my mind will show us all how ridiculous they really are. Feel free to include your own crazymaking ideas about writing. Then we'll have a big bonfire and be free to discover new, better truths.

  1. Whole books are out there in the ether, fully formed, waiting for me to sit and channel them into existence. They are perfect, and complete, and inevitable.
  2. If I'm not in some sort of trance while writing...if my characters haven't taken over my fingers themselves...then I'm not producing quality work.
  3. I need to be very smart, highly educated, and utterly fascinating to write.
  4. I also need to be temperamental and more than a little insane.
  5. Ideally, my wardrobe would consist of nothing other than peasant skirts, black chiffon dresses, and high heeled boots. And a beret.
  6. Don't bother writing if you haven't lived in Paris, in a garret.
  7. Books and babies don't mix.
  8. Fiction is all that matters. Nonfiction writing isn't “real writing.”
  9. I haven't done anything worth writing about, and yet, I must always “write what I know.”
  10. Only writing directly into a work in progress matters, forget planning or notetaking or even just occasionally THINKING about what I want to say. If I need to think that much, I am not a real writer.
  11. If my writing doesn't resemble the examples in the writing books, I am not a real writer.
  12. If I am too unhappy, I must not really love writing.
  13. If I am too happy, I must not be “deep” enough to be a writer.
  14. Be suspicious if it comes too easily. Be suspicious if it's too hard.
  15. Either you are a genius, or you are nothing. And you are probably not a genius.

If you see any of these ideas walking down the street, looking for a new home, be sure to cross the street. But first, give them a kick in the shins for me.
For more writing know-how, go here.

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Blogger Amber said...

Oh, oh, OHHHH!!! Some of these really ring a bell for me. I started my project so strong! And then...I am having issues, lets say.

Have you read the blog Laini (at Gorw Wings) put up about writing? No Robots? I think you would like it a lot. I read the whole thing.


5:53 PM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger Jessie said...

oh sweet mental purging!!!

some days i think that if i could shake my head loose, then i would. maybe an exorcism is a better approach. ;)

9:50 PM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

These are some great sentiments to exorcise and I've bludgeoned myself with a fair number. And I'll have to nominate two of my personal favorites:

1. Are you high? What makes you think you have a single thing to say that would interest anyone?
2. Your writing sucks and any positive feedback you've gotten has been from people who don't have the heart to break it to you or who are clinically insane and don't know what they are talking about.

Begone demon thoughts!!!

11:34 PM, September 07, 2007  
Anonymous gautami tripathy said...

Even if we don't have to say anything to others, writing does act a catharsis. I have felt better after writing dark pieces, purging myself in the way.

1:09 AM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Jo said...

I LOVE this. I so relate to the wonderful, terrible list LOL! And Lisa, I love your additional two.

1:37 AM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger danae sinclair said...

whoa. Yeah burn that list - and write a new one that says

- it only matters that I write
- there are people out there who have five children and write for a living (really, I can prove this to you)
- it doesn't matter what I think I 'need' to write, all i actually need is to show up at the page and do it. one. word. at. a. time.

- a beret is cute, but so is everything in my wardrobe right now (even the baby-puke stained tee shirts and jeans). As long as i can sit down in it, it helps me to write.

but hey I REALLY loved reading it - you are SO a writer, you have the universal writer fears.

4:34 AM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

This is a marvellous post - and obviously, many of us can relate to it all. I think the time has come to ditch the "how-to" books, and if you must have books about writing, go for the "Why" books. The ones that inspire you with a love for the process, not the product, perhaps?

9:36 AM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Herb Urban said...

That is an awesome list. Those bastards have tripped me up a time or two as well.

When I was in high school I read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet and was convinced I needed to write. It was a matter of necessity, not a choice. Then I promptly ignored that need for years.

Dealing with self doubt is a big part of the process. Editing the same sentence for hours, struggling with word choices, questioning if we have anything worthwhile to say. Maybe knowing we all do through this self imposed torture will help us overcome them.

I look forward to reading your beanstalk novel one day! Your beans have a magical quality to them.

12:04 PM, September 08, 2007  
Anonymous L.B. said...

Oh wow! You really hit the nail on the head. Although, in response to number four, my erroneous beleif is the opposite: I need to be a little more sane and a little less tempramental. Because of Depression, it's so hard to get any serious work done.

Exorcising your list is a powerful way to remove roadblocks.

p.s. Another great book you might want to read is called Art & Fear (it applies just as much to writing as it does to writing or any other art).

2:01 PM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Becca said...

I loved reading this list, but I have to agree with Danae - toss it out and start a new one beginning with "I am a writer."

Oh, and growing a Novel Beanstalk? Priceless :) I could probably climb the beanstalk myself if I stacked my "How to Write" library on end!

3:49 PM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

I've been there...every single one of your items has been mine. Nice to see you getting them OUT.

5:25 PM, September 08, 2007  
Anonymous MissMeliss said...

Oh, I've found myself nodding my head throughout this whole post.

12:31 AM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger etain_lavena said...

you dont need to know something to write about it....go and read some older stories on my blog, I write about killing, being old, kidnapping a baby, you just need to imagine anything and you will be able to write about it....and dont over anilise and Stop being hard on yourself...I know I do the same....your, your own enemy...good luck

7:16 AM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger The Writers' Group said...

I love your blog! I would add to "the list must be exorcised": I must write every day.


7:51 AM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Sunday Scribblings said...

So funny and terrible, M! WHY is this process/choice/identity (whatever it is) so fraught? I am such a yoyo of self-encouragement and self-disparagment and feeling like an imposter and being deeply, heart-achingly jealous of other writers! And I did -- ha ha -- live in a garret in Paris for 3 months when I was 17. Does that count toward tortured artist street cred?
-Laini :-)

9:41 AM, September 09, 2007  
Anonymous lisrobbe said...

Super post! Who as a writer could not relate. It is these traits that make writers.

7:52 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Patois said...

Are you somehow in my mind? And however did you get out? Great post.

9:01 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Rob Kistner said...

Very clever list... ;)

My motto: forget the 'how to', just 'do, do, do, be do be do'... oops, sorry! If you 'do',the way will open for you.

5:19 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Tori said...

This is send those thoughts way far away and they better not cross my path because I will give them a piece of my mind.
You are a amazing writer....simply because you are one else has YOUR voice.
And I am sure that most published writers would tell you that they spent many an hour at their desks wanting to poke their eyes out with their pens!
Just because we love something doesn't mean that it doesn't have moments that completely suck.

7:10 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger e_journeys said...

Censor be gone! One of the reasons I started a free-writing group was to help people overcome their fear of writing. (People have come into the group saying, "I can't write," and then they surprise themselves.) We write on the spot and off the cuff, rough drafts all, no pressure, no critiquing. Don't even have to keep to the prompt. It's to get those writing muscles exercised, just like any other workout.

8:06 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger kate said...

we need to sit down and have coffee. really. really, really, really.

8:24 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

So happy to be able to get onto your blog today. For some reason, my (admittedly ancient) computer hasn't allowed me to do so for a while.

But I think the computer gods must have known I NEEDED to read this today. Your number one is an idea that has tortured me all summer, but thanks to you, I just gave it a good kick in the shins. And you know what? It crept away whimpering.

10:10 PM, September 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the helps my heart to know that my insanity is universal! Does that make me a bad person? ;)

And to those who added their own evil writing ideas...oy, YES...I have had those as well. Looks like we're all in the same leaky writing boat.

And yes, Laini...Parisian garrets are serious literary street cred.

10:49 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Holli Jo said...

Oh my goodness! I totally could have written everything you said in this post. Wow. You really nailed the writer insecurity...

I love your writing style. I'm definitely coming back!

10:58 PM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger Ray-Anne said...

I love this list so much that I am going to copy it onto my blog with credits [ unless you object of course] write it on paper taped to my monitor and link your blog to my site, - also love the xtra comments from Lisa. Will use that too.
I am currently revising a first draft of a romance and yes, the crows of doubt are circling overhead.
Thank you so much - and thanks to Eudaemonia for the connection to this blog.
Only good times ahead, Ray-Anne

7:00 AM, September 28, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

I started checking which of these beliefs I carry and realized that they all live in my head to one degree or another, a few of them have built entire neighborhoods and invited their friends to live there too.

There'll be some shin-kicking going on here.

9:59 PM, October 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like this post. you should read the albatrosspoetry blog. it's amazing. make you feel like you wish you could write poems so intricate and diverse.

2:46 PM, October 16, 2007  

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