(Some call this kind of self-motivational writing “getting unstuck.” Others call it “kicking yourself in the ass.” I’m calling it a confession. So, I figure this might as well be the first part in a yet-to-be-determined number of posts about the writing process.)
I am “blocked.”
I can’t get any writing out. I want to, I really do. But every time I fire up the word processor, I just sit there staring at it. Some words appear. I delete them. Some more words, even a sentence. Another sentence. A third. All crap.
In the words of Woken Matt Hardy:
And then here I am, once again, back at the beginning. It sucks and all I want to do is go play video games.
There are times where the last thing in the world I want to do is what I must do if I want to get anywhere. I haven’t made any meaningful progress on my novel series since I took a break at the end of 2017. I have tons of outlines and ideas and summary paragraphs and false-starts. But I don’t have any chapters written. Every time I sit down to do the work, I get distracted. Even when I can power through the distraction, I begin second-guessing myself and find every excuse not to do the work I know I have to do.
That early work is going to end up in the trash can. It’s inevitable. It’s part of the process. It happened with Volume 3, and Volume 2, and Volume 1. It happened with my first books years ago. It has to happen. It’s part of the deal — you have to get the clogged up, yucky, nasty writing out before the good stuff can flow through the pipes. But I loathe “throw away” work. I always have. Homework in school was a waste of time. Running wind sprints at sports practices was merely keeping me from quality time with my Nintendo. I could ace the test and win the game without all the boring crap. Just let me do the good stuff, and I’ll prove it.
That mentality persists today, only I know for a fact it’s not true. It’s self-delusion. You cannot achieve anything meaningful without a tremendous amount of effort, most of it unseen and unappreciated by anyone. If you fuck around during practice, then come game time, you will not have trained your body and mind to go to that place of instinctual performance when it’s the 4th quarter and you’re exhausted.
You’ll give up. Because that’s what you practiced, and you play like you practice.
The first draft. Stretching before workouts. Warm-up sketches. Painting class. Piano rudiments. Drumming exercises. Batting practice. It all matters.
So it comes to the point of doing anything: You have to do it if you want it done. One step at a time, one word at a time, regardless of what you may think makes it into the final draft, it all makes it into the final draft. Because without the preliminary work, there is no final draft.
If the writing I have to do right now results in merely practicing for the next round, so be it. If something special comes out and amounts to something that moves on to the next draft, that’s awesome — but that’s not why I have to do it. I have to get the book done, and I have to make it not suck. Part of that is throw-away writing. Part of that is working through a point or a scene or a character’s motivation just to figure out what it is. To quote one of my absolute favorite videos on the subject of writing: “What, you start with your final draft?”
(For you fans of Rick & Morty, Community, Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, Jack Black, and those sorts of things: if you’ve never watched the Acceptable.TV tutorial series on making stuff, it’s a fucking treasure — and if you’re a writer yourself, it’s not only immensely informative, it’s encouraging as well. The link above has a bunch of their videos, look for the ones titled Writing, Editing, Structure and Rejection for the sweet spots.)
Do the work. Start typing. Don’t stop till it’s all out. Walk away. Come back, check it over. All the bad stuff:
And keep the good stuff. Do another draft. Keep going. By the end of the process, you have a book. And the more fully you commit to the process, the better the book will be. But even the worst books cannot be written without words on the page.