Over at terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig has published another guide to finishing your novel. The latest installment is titled: HOW TO KARATE YOUR NOVEL AND EDIT THAT MOTHERFUCKER HARD: A NO-FOOLIN’ FIX-THAT-SHIT EDITING PLAN TO FINISH THE GODDAMN JOB.
Capitals are original to the author. As you might be able to tell, Mister Wendig and I have slightly different writing styles. I’ve never read any of his work, there are a few of his titles on my to-read pile, but the point of this isn’t to discuss style. He’s found his voice, he’s working that voice, and he’s a terrific advocate of independent authors with one of the largest online databases of how-to articles and helpful tips for authors just starting off. Good for him I say.
No, the point of this post is to provide an alternate stance to the many how-to-write-your-book posts that Mister Wendig has on his site.
First, though, I want mention that there are plenty of things I agree with from Mister Wendig’s overall philosophy. A couple of quotes of his will illustrate this:
Basically what he wants to instill in his readers is that you have to actually write your god-damned book if you want to write your god-damned book. Otherwise you are just someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about a book. And that isn’t quite the same thing. There are a lot of people who sit around thinking about being football players or ballerinas or winning the lottery and, in the end, that does not result in them becoming what they are trying to attain.
This is very sound advice.
But there are plenty of times when I would suggest that you ignore it.
In the end, the goal shouldn’t be to finish books, the goal should be to come into your own as a writer. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s the truth. You have to learn to teach yourself with respect, to acknowledge that you have a voice, to grasp how it is that you tell stories. That’s what writing is all about and doing nothing but ordering yourself to hammer at the keyboard year after year doesn’t allow much room to converse with yourself, to take note of who you are and how far you’ve come.
It’s just your hands on the keyboard and a drill instructor in your brain.
That doesn’t allow much room for growth.
Every so often, it’s good to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Why do you write? What is it that you want to produce? Maybe you want to try something different from what you’ve been forcing yourself to hammer out. Trust me. It happens.
I just mentioned the concept of a mental drill instructor and that brings me to another point I’d like to make. Again, I’ve had plenty of books that were finished with the help of that mental drill instructor. It’s a good tool, but it’s not the only tool. And it has plenty of downside. I’ve spent a lot of time, way too much of my life, beating myself up for not writing enough. I’ve piled on anxiety and stress and self-loathing because I wasn’t meeting my word count. Yes, it helped me to finish some of my earlier books, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth the costs. Especially because, and I can not stress this enough, there are other ways to write. You can take breaks from your word count and not beat yourself up over it. You can sit and type without adrenaline or pressure. You can step away from your book and not instantly consider it a failed effort. That’s allowed.
I honestly find myself wondering these days if my earlier books would have been finished in roughly the same time-frame even without that mental drill instructor. Whether they would have slowly been typed and edited if I hadn’t applied tremendous pressure on myself to finish them, if I had had a little self-respect and let myself be at peace while I was away from them. Part of me thinks that I would have worked my way back to the keyboard at about the same time whenever I took a break, and the books would have come out of me either way, I just would have been less riddled with anxiety.
And that anxiety adds up. It can leave you hating your keyboard, slogging through your books, loathing every step. I mean, if that’s the goal…well maybe that shouldn’t be the goal is all I’m trying to say.
Mister Wendig’s philosophy also seems to overlook the fact that writing will change for you over time. I hinted at this earlier but what writing is, what it means to you, why you do it, and how you do it…that’s all up in the air. It probably doesn’t seem like it now, but life lasts a pretty long time and you won’t write your fifth book the same way you write your first. You’ll acquire new tools, old tools will go blunt, you’ll experience new authors and art that will effect what you’re trying to create. And, most importantly, you’ll continue through your life. You’ll change as a person. And that should come to be reflected in your process. Which means that your process should change as well.
I know a lot of authors who have written some impressive things but continue to flog themselves along on the drill instructor’s path.
I would like them to know that there is more than one way to write.
Maybe take a fresh look at things and see if that isn’t true.
I suppose that’s my over all point. Turn off the drill instructor now and then and take a breath. Please.
Look I’ll put it this way.
Painters are supposed to paint a certain way. They’re supposed to use pencil strokes, or pen strokes, or brush strokes to produce an effect as multiple brush strokes compile. It sounds ludicrous to think that a painter would paint pictures, say, using only one line, that someone might paint a picture by applying pen to paper and not lifting it until their painting was finished.
But that’s painting too. It’s important to recognize that there can be more than one process.
Oh, I know what you’re saying. That’s just silliness, right? I’m making a broad point but it’s pretty facile. Yes, technically drawing one, and only one, line is painting. But no one would ever actually do that. Why would anyone, not to mention an expert, pursue such a method when it’s so obviously not going to create something brilliant or popular or interesting, right?