Hundreds of wanna-be writers head to the writing workshops every day. They search for new creative writing techniques, quest for an easy answer to learning to write. The hard truth is this: All the technique in the world can’t force you to write. To be a writer, you have to be a writer and start writing.
Short stories are often the first type of fiction we writers create. The reason is easy to explain – it’s a short story, so it should be easy. Another hard truth? Short stories are often much more difficult to write convincingly than a novel. You’re confined to a very small space in which to develop a plot, create believable characters, and both devise and resolve conflict. If you’re beating yourself up because you can’t seem to write based on your short story results, stop right now.
And wait before you head to a writing class.
Blow off Technique
Yup. You read that right. Blow off technique – forget all about your grammar and punctuation, proper word choice and development.
Scared? It can be very scary. We all have this nasty little inner editor that likes to poke fun at our words, point out our mistakes, and ruin the writing experience. I like creating a mental image of my inner editor. She’s a crabby woman with gnarled hair and even more gnarled fingers, trifocals that make her eyes bug out as she critically scans my words, and she’s never written a word in her life. Not even one. She’s too obsessed with perfection to get any writing done. Worse yet – she wants to make me too afraid to write. So I picture her in my mind and when she tries beating her way to the forefront, I can sew her lips shut and place her in the closet.
I don’t have to be nice to my inner editor. She’s not nice to me.
So get rid of your inner editor and get ready to remember what it is to write for no reason other than the thrill of watching your words form on the page. To relive the excitement of taking thoughts and giving them shape. You can have all the technique in the world and still not create great fiction, so we’re going to create great fiction and look at technique after it’s written.
Concoct a Writing Recipe
Well, I could lie out my teeth and say that I have the perfect formula for writing well. I could try to make you believe that if you sit down and write your heart out every day – for only ten minutes! – that you can become the next national best-seller.
I could also pull yet another cliche out of the bag and try to sell you a river that yields the purest gold in the middle of the Sahara.
Right. There is no magic formula. There are plenty of people out there willing to take your money and convince you that there is one, though. Fact is that no one has the perfect writing recipe for you. In all my wisdom (vast amounts, you may be sure!) not even I have the recipe … so you’re going to have to come up with the recipe yourself.
You know how you write best. Remember that there are no hard and fast rules, no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to the way you write. Just as you have your own writing style and voice, you have your own methods for getting ink to paper (or fingers to keys, as the case may be).
Will I leave you hanging? Of course not! Here are some ideas that successful writers incorporate in their own writing recipes:
1. Find a totem.
I say this because I can’t think of a better word than “totem” at the moment, but the idea is that you having some sort of symbol that signals your mind that it’s time to play works for many authors. The symbol should involve doing something, which in turn will start the process of shutting up your inner editor.
What are some good symbols? Think about what you like best. Lighting a series of candles nearby works for some people, while others prefer a brisk walk on the beach. Some people have a little box that they keep nearby and they will sit down and chew their inner editor out before writing, placing the note in the box as a symbol of shutting the inner editor away.
Personally, I favor clothes. I have a black cap that was given to me for a birthday that gets pulled down over my hair, and a pair of fingerless black mesh gloves that get pulled up my arms. The act of placing these items on performs two important functions: one, it signals my family that I’m writing and they won’t disturb me, and two, it’s like getting dressed up for a play. I get to put on a costume and become not “mom” but “Phebe The Writer”.
2. Keep a Journal.
I know, I know. This suggestion is made so often that you’re probably tired of hearing it. But, if you’re tired of hearing it instead of nodding your head thinking, “Yeah, that helps!” then you’ve never tried keeping a writer’s journal.
A writer’s journal is inherently different than a diary. Your writer’s journal doesn’t care about the daily minituae of your life. It does care what time you got up, what you had for breakfast, or the fact that you saw a cute guy at the bottom of the staircase on your way to work. Unless, of course, you woke up falling out of bed, nearly smooshing your cat Romeo, spilled milk down your top which you didn’t have time to change because you were already rushing out the door and turned around to step on the toes of a man who looked like he could be Romeo. And, of course, if this is the case, all the little details of how you felt, how you reacted, and the way Mr. Romeo’s eyes caressed you like a touch are perfect fodder.
The idea is to give yourself a place where you can write absolutely anything that comes to mind without any criticism from the editor-we-like-to-gag. One of the most remarkable entries in a writer’s journal I was priveleged to read detailed the way a friend’s daughter tied her shoes. It wasn’t the act that was remarkable, it was the detail to every movement, the insight gained by watching one little girl struggle with tongue-between-teeth to perform an act that most of us have learned to take for granted.
Just let yourself play and enjoy writing creatively – that is the purpose of a writer’s journal.
3. Make Writing a Dedicated Practice.
Think for a moment about the people who are the “best” at something. The Olympic athletes, the amazing martial arts experts, even that brainy professor you secretly had a crush on in college. They exude knowledge, and wield the skills of their knowledge like a finely honed weapon that comes as unconscious as breath.
How did they get to that ease? They practiced. They were dedicated.
If becoming a writer is really important to you, there’s nothing standing in your way of becoming one. No matter how long your work hours, how tedious your family life, there are at least twenty minutes in a day where you can dedicate yourself to the pursuit of writing better. People who become true experts in their field let nothing keep them from what they feel a drive to become – neither should you.
Create a schedule that says simply “I will write for (amount of time) beginning at (time) every day”. Can’t quite seem to get that rigid yet? Try this one on for size: “I will get up twenty minutes earlier and write while drinking my morning coffee every day”. Still too strict? Try this one, then: “I will write for twenty minutes every day.”
The point is that if you really feel the burning need to be a writer, BE ONE. Don’t let anything hold you back – not your inner editor, not your job schedule, and most certainly not your fear of failure. We all fail. It’s how we move past that failure that our successes are defined.