In retrospect, the title of today’s post, “Write On” seems more than a wee bit hypocritical, since my exhortation to ‘keep writing’, which was actually written last week, fell through the cracks, interrupted as it was by my week at USTA Nationals in Surprise AZ.
Ah, well, another road, paved with good intentions.
But I did get that blog post written last week, even though being on the road and other issues meant I didn’t actually get it posted.
Perhaps I will make up for it this week, by sneaking in a remedial post before I’m once again, ‘on the road again’.
Written Last Tuesday, at YVR International Airport:
One of the looming perils we unpublished writers must constantly be on the lookout for is that ubiquitous menace known as ‘evil wee beasties who lurk in the dark’. Half-formed, unseen creatures who slink behind us, dogging our trail, snarling, ready to lunge at the slightest opportunity.
Creatures who feed on ‘self-doubt’.
Omnipresent, like wolves trailing a wagon train.
These evil wee beasties and they’re related brethren lurk in the woods, at night. They hide in the shadows, crouch behind rocks, yipping and howling, until our dreams turn to nightmares.
When we wake, things look brighter.
For a while, the beasties seem safely at bay. You go about your morning in a delusional state of cheerful optimism. I’m safe, you think.
At least for awhile.
But do not fool yourself.
You make a fresh pot of coffee, maybe answer a few emails, settle down into your ‘writing space’ and then, just like that, it happens: you read what you wrote yesterday and you see in an instant that the wolves are back, scratching at your office door, howling to be let in.
Your thin veneer of safety and security crumbles… self-doubt is right there… right outside the door.
Take heed. You cannot afford to relax for even a moment. You must keep constant vigil.
Even as the evil beasties yip and snarl and howl until you must cover your ears, lest you go mad. Write on! For if you do not, you’re lost.
Instead of starting on Chapter 12 as you planned, you suddenly find yourself back at Chapter 1, rewriting your ‘opening’.
Put it down! Now! Go back to Chapter 12! Write On!
It’s not that I am completely unsympathetic. I know the temptation of lingering over Chapter 1. You know it well. Chapter 1 is your friend. You feel in familiar territory here. Your writing is strong, the wolves far behind.
Why not fix up Chapter 1 just a little more, you think. After all, isn’t it the most important chapter? Don’t all the experts say that if you don’t hook them in with the first word, first line, first paragraph you’ll never get an agent, never sell that book?
Well, to that I say ‘poppycock’.
Your Chapter 1 isn’t going to be worth diddly-squat if you don’t finish the book.
You’re never going to show it to anyone if you don’t finish the book.
Put down Chapter 1 and quit messing around! Your date today is with Chapter 12, or 14, or 42 or wherever you last left off. Your job is to Write On.
Finish the first draft.
But what about Chapter 3?
What if now, in retrospect, you’ve discovered you’ve disgorged way too much back story much too early in the book.
I mean, how can it hurt to just go back and fix that one little chapter and…
No. Write On!
Maybe you’re committed to pressing on, maybe you’ve just flipped back to your latest pages, just to see where you left off and then… OMG!!
You read your latest pages with critical dismay.
What started out so promising last night when you crafted those words at midnight has now morphed, in the cold grey light of dawn into sheer, incontrovertible drivel.
Oh yes, I’ve been there. I know of what you speak.
So, what are you to do? What are we all to do?
Fix it! Your brain screams. For that is your natural inclination, goaded on by what I like to think of as our ‘evil twins’ aka the voice of your inner ‘self-editors’.
Cover your ears. I beg you! You must ignore those voices of self doubt and Write On!
Remember, it is not safe to dawdle here. Wolves lurk in them there woods. And those wolves are hungry.
Press on at speed! Write on! Write on!
Back in the midst of our original 5 months challenge, I expounded on just this theme. I think at that time, I used the ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ theme song from ‘Rawhide’.
But in retrospect, I think I like the wagon train analogy even better.
Think of it, those wagons are full of your most valuable assets: your characters… your plot… tension and conflict, climax and resolution. Your job, as author, is to get everyone in the wagon safely to the end of the trail, even with those terrible wee beasties, howling in the woods.
Write On! For if you don’t, your first draft will never get finished.
Now, I admit, we are admittedly on the verge of straying into ‘chicken and egg’ territory here.
I hear you.
You say you cannot move forward until you are firmly convinced that you’ve got the right characters huddled in those wagons. And as far as the plot is concerned, how can you ever know that it is all going to work out in the end until you know all the obstacles that might be encountered along the trail? All the antagonists and villains who may be along for the ride?
Well you can’t, of course.
You need to know some of that, sure. But my impassioned argument is that you must, as much as possible, just Write On.
Get the first draft done! Tell the story to yourself, from beginning to end. Find out where your characters want to go, and why. See where they lead you. Maybe you are being led into a swampy quagmire or ‘boxed-in-canyon’.
You can’t know for sure.
But you must keep writing. Because if, in the end, all you do is rewrite and rewrite until your first or second chapter is ‘perfect’, you’ll never get that first draft done.
Now, I still see you shaking your heads.
You think my advice for the day to just ‘Write On’ is just a candy-ass pantser’s approach to writing.
You think that a real writer would have spent hours and hours working out the plot and crafting a rock solid outline, would have no chance of straying into boxed-in-canyon or swampy quagmire.
That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?
And the truth is, you may be right.
Because, that, dear writing friends, is the ultimate dilemma.
But I still fervently believe that you have to just Write On, at least in the first draft. Until you get a solid feel for your characters’ dialogue, your characters’ inner conflict and all those other ‘intangibles’ like voice and pacing that every writer knows they must nail, but usually has no idea how to find.
I do think, however, that the faster you can tell the story to yourself, the more naturally cohesive your story should be.
Because we are, from time immemorial, natural storytellers. Our stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our goal, as writers should be to write to that end with as much tension and conflict that we can possibly create in our first draft fiction, without getting waylaid by the temptation to re-arrange commas and semi-colons in the same manner as the doomed passengers on the Titanic rearranged the deck chairs. (And yes, I know that this is most definitely a mixing up of my whole wagon train metaphor, but I couldn’t resist).
So, this week’s post is intended as a gentle exhortation to my 5writers group and also to all our followers, (especially those about to embark on their own epic journey: in the blood sport known as NaNoWriMo): Write On!
Write the first Draft!
Just do it.
PS: You shouldn’t even be reading this post anyway.
Not until you finish your first draft. Remember, the clock is ticking!