Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Art Of Writing Without Writing

First off, I don't have any reason to look as sassy/smug about my writing as Bruce Lee is about his Jeet Kun Do, I just liked the way I could mulch up his quote.

Now that's out of the way, what exactly do I mean by "writing without writing"?

Well, this will all come as little surprise to seasoned writers out there, but I'm still cutting my teeth after only three years of wrestling with books, so it was something of an epiphany for me when I realised that to truly improve in style, and to craft a decent narrative, I had to spend more time not writing.

Whoa, that's cray-cray, you might say!


Writing has gotta be 33% thinking, 33% reading, and only 33% getting stuff down. And 1% coffee. 

I used to be a voracious reader (oh yes) before I started writing seriously, but once I'd started I got 'the nerves', and found that no time was enough time. Writing makes me restless, and now that I've taken the plunge I find it hard not to measure anything I do against time-I-could-have-spent-writing. So books went out of the window (not literally, I'm not a monster), as did relaxing. I've lived on my tiptoes for three years, bouncing off walls until I could get down to a screen, and after a while I found that I began to freeze. Where once words were easy (even if they weren't polished) now I couldn't even get a few sentences down without getting 'conga face'.

Whole mornings devoted to writing would produce less than 500 words. I felt like I was flushing my life down the toilet.

So this month I've finally decided to try something different. I've started reading again, sometimes even between 3 and 7 am (the golden hours when the kids are asleep and silence is possible). When I write in isolation, I lose sight of right and wrong. I second guess everything, revising and cutting until there is nothing left but ashes and dust. ASHES AND DUST. By reading the sentence structures of other authors, and analysing plots, I found that I could judge my own work far more easily, and objectively. I also lost the 'first draft fear', and let myself get some stuff down with the view to honing it later, which is a whole lot easier than trying for perfection straight away. It's like crafting a marble statue - you get the vague shape first, you don't go straight for the ball sack. (Disclaimer - I have no idea how to carve a marble statue. And not all of them need ball sacks.)

I've also allowed myself to think of time with my family as a positive for my writing rather than a negative, which is a small thing but it makes a big difference. I love my family dearly, and whenever I was with them and wished I was writing, I would feel guilty for even thinking it. Whenever I was writing and could have been with them, I felt guilty. Whenever I spent an enjoyable day with them and neglected writing, I felt guilty. I basically felt guilty whatever I was doing. Now I use the few seconds when my kids are off on the swings or scooting around the park as a chance to think about my plot, mulling over details and logic until my plot humps iron themselves out. By doing this I have managed to finish a short story that has been on my hard drive for a year. It's vastly different in tone to my original idea, but I like it, and more importantly, it's finished (well, almost. Always room for more drafting). I've also made sure that my mind goes over plots while I'm in the shower or cooking, rather than slipping into stressing about work, or money. Plots I can figure out, life is more of an issue, so lets get some small victories!

By doing all this, I have managed to get above 2000 words a day on a regular basis, which I haven't done since I finished Cuts Of Flesh.

In conclusion, I've devoted less time to writing, and got more done. Win-win.

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