Friday, May 3, 2019

What Writers Want, What Writers Need

Okay - you are ready to write the Great American Novel. The ideas are percolating, the dialogue is clear and concise in your head, and you have that jaw-dropping ending that will take the reader's breath away. Now you'll write it, if it wasn't for that one problem...

What's the problem? Well, everyone has that one problem or that one thing keeping them from getting things going, and it's always something. "There's just one part I'm not sure about." "I just don't have the time." "I wouldn't know what to do with it." "The cat is always sitting on the keyboard." Any of these sound familiar? (Someone actually used that cat excuse in a workshop) Usually, the issue boils down to some mismatch in expectations, fitting into a simple categorization. We will call this, What Writers Want:

  • Time
  • Great Ideas
  • Brilliant Execution

It isn't just writers who want this - it's everyone. However, writers are on a very personal adventure, so these issues seem all the more important. In particular, it's easy to back away when those things are not in abundance. But these expectations are unrealistic, if not impossible. The list of What Writers Want is better phrased as Unreasonable Demands For A Project We Are Scared To Do. Allow me to explain.

Time. I have heard people say they would write more, but life gets in the way of writing. First, life isn't going away. More to the point, life is a series of priorities, and how we arrange those reflects the things we really want to do. Is our Great American Novel more important than watching NCIS? Is writing worth getting up one-half hour earlier or staying up one-half hour later to get a little writing every day? During my days as an economist, friends would tell me they wanted to save more, but at the end of the month there was nothing left to save. My response was always, "Then save at the beginning of the month. You'll be surprised." If you want to write, then make it a priority. You'll be surprised.

Great Ideas. I personally have three great ideas for novels, each on a Post-It note in my office. If I put them next to Post-It notes with all my bad ideas, I would never find them in the sticky sea of yellow paper. I go through a lot of ideas when I write, and a lot of them fall flat. That's okay - I tried them out and they didn't work. Great ideas - for a character, dialogue, descriptions, whatever - only show themselves once you try them out. Rarely does a good idea announce itself as such from square one, so don't expect to have a brilliant idea and know it immediately. Have ideas, try them out, and see where they go. And if they work, put them on a Post-It note by your desk.

Brilliant Execution. If you are lucky enough to have the Time for turning the Great Idea into a poem, novel, or whatever, I can all but guarantee that it will not be easy. I have had projects that have just poured themselves on the page, the words coming together faster than I could type. And you know what -- they still needed work. A lot of work. Editing, rewriting, wholesale changes. Clean copy in a first draft is the rarest of rarities, so don't expect it to happen. Challenge it. Think about it. Question how it could be even more perfect.

As writers, we know What Writers Want. Hopefully, we realize that they aren't achievable. It's actually much more simple - we will call this What Writers Need:

  • Priorities
  • Patience
  • Willingness to Fail

They do not sound as impressive or glorious, and won't make a great meme. However, they are a reasonable set of expectations that will get you to write the Great American Novel.

2 comments:

  1. Inspiring in a how-to/self-help sort of way

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. I spent too long trying to think of how to say this, so I decided I would just say it and see what it was.

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