October 25th, 2011


10 Thoughts About Writing

In conversation with lists created by thanate,  alecaustinjazzfish, and aamcnamara:

1.  It's okay to write.  Don't justify it to anyone.  You don't need to prove it's a worthy endeavor, so don't make your writing choices about chasing that proof.  Writing is marvelous all by itself.  At its best, writing lets us learn from ourselves what we already knew.  Even better, it teaches us to understand people we might otherwise settle for despising.

2.  Just because it's marvelous doesn't mean it's salable.  This simple truth should be neither depressing nor arguable, though it is very often both.

3. You don't have to tell everybody you write.  I have a friend who is a skydiving instructor.  He doesn't often disclose that upon first meeting people, and never mentions it if he's at a larger social gathering.    People either look at him funny, ask stupid questions and make stupid jokes, or profess how they would totally skydive if it wasn't for (insert reasons).  He doesn't feel the need to hide what he does out of shame.  He just doesn't want the hassle.

4.  Be aware--but do not beware--of any complex pre-writing rituals that depend upon possession of special items that may get lost, external events beyond your control, or the results of games of chance.  These are not actually pre-writing rituals.  They are stalling techniques.  Pay attention to when you use them, and you may learn why.  Learn why, and you may be able to stop.

5. Have a lucky charm.  No, this doesn't contradict #5.  Unlike complex rituals, a lucky charm is simple.  It's also scientifically proven to improve motivation, confidence, and performance in any skill-based endeavor.  My lucky charm is the Unicorn Plate.  I only recently unpacked it.  I only recently resumed writing.  Hmm...

6.  Understand failure, but wallow in success.  Sure, we're supposed to learn from failure, but we naturally learn better from success.  When we fail, neurological processes slow down.  When we succeed, the brain lights up.  Neurons maintain that special memory for a few seconds, long enough to repeat the preceding action, and that's what helps build success.  Why?  My theory is that success is damned complex.  The brain wants to capture and retain the minutia of it because success may mean survival.  This can, however, lead to a #5, so try to contain the aftermath to a #6.  (Perhaps the brain short-changes failure because it once led most often to being a larger creature's dinner, and remembering what led up to one's dismemberment seemed unnecessary.) 

7.  Cultivate specialized interests and skills that have nothing to do with writing or reading.  I almost said unusual interests, but that is so relative.  (In my hometown, fencing would be an unusual interest.  Among writers, not so much.  Among writers, tractors would be an unusual interest.  In my hometown, not so much.)  Learn about stuff you think is cool--even if everybody else thinks it's stupid, and even if everybody else has already learned about it.  It isn't about conformity or uniqueness.  It's about stretching your brain so more words can fit into it.

8.  Feel free to break the rules--just do it with forethought, intent, and success.  If you unsuccessfully break rules, no one will care that you did it deliberately.  But do it successfully, and every other writer will ask you how you did.  Be prepared to answer.

9.  Writing, as a verb, is solitary.  Writing, as an endeavor, need not be.  I think it's why so many writers prefer non-team athletics like martial arts and fencing.  It's both solitary and social.  It's why we do journals and blogs and conferences and conventions. 

10.  Know when to stop.

(Edited to add links that should have been there the first time!)