This may be one of the more counterintuitive posts ever made on this site, but bear with me. There’s method to my madness.
I love writing for Magical Words. I really do. Sometimes I struggle to come up with good subject matter for a post (apologies, world, for that) and sometimes my comments are dull, self-evident or overly dry, but I’m committed to the site and its purposes and I genuinely believe that writers find it useful at least occasionally. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be part of the team.
But I also know that writers’ sites like MW present such a wealth of information (some of it different in approach, even contradictory) that it can be overwhelming, that the sheer abundance of thoughtful takes on any number of writerly issues can become daunting, can become—in fact—the opposite of what it was intended to be. Sometimes advice to writers doesn’t facilitate, it paralyzes. People sit down to write and suddenly they feel the weight of everything they’ve ever read about world building or character development pressing down on them, like they are balancing an inverted pyramid on their heads: thousands of cubic tons of stone weighing down on their creative faculties. They stare at the screen, stymied by all that writerly wisdom (conventional and otherwise), and they write nothing at all.
There’s another, related problem. Writers sometimes get so absorbed by sites like this, by books on writing, by classes and the like, that these things become ends in themselves. They spend hours mulling issues ABOUT writing and in their heads this becomes a surrogate for actually DOING the writing. They are invested in the craft—their brains point out—they are researching the business and somehow—somehow—they are becoming better writers in the process. Except, of course, that they aren’t if they aren’t actually writing.
Part of the issue is that advice about writing (as with all kinds of advice) needs to land at just the right time. For me, sites like MW provide wonderful assessment tools by which I can look at a manuscript I’ve already produced and see what isn’t working, and how I can make it better. Sometimes posts here will help me think about a core idea or inspire me to think about a future project.
But for the most part I don’t want my head too cluttered with other people’s thoughts about writing when I’m first drafting a story. I need to be in the silence of my own thoughts and dreams then, and I certainly don’t want to be dogged by the fear that, based on advice I’ve read, I might be Doing It Wrong. If you are at all like me, you may need to use sites like this sparingly depending on the developmental stage of your project. Read while you mull a new book and while you rework it, perhaps, but take a break during the drafting stage. Ignore our words (however magical) and focus on yours.
Let me say it again: I love this site and believe fervently that it offers good, constructive advice for writers. But I also know that many writers (myself included) learned the basics without such sites, without books or classes. They learned by reading other people’s work and, most importantly, by writing, and writing, and writing some more.
One of my favorite songs at the moment is by a band called The Lonely Forest. It’s a wry, slightly self-parodic but still heartfelt call to life and love and it hinges on a simple idea: Turn off the song, it says, you can listen to it later. Turn off the song, find someone to love, and go outside.
My point is simple.
Don’t worry so much about craft, about getting published, about weighing plotting against pantsing. Focus on the important thing, which is the writing itself.
So turn off the advice. You can listen to it later. Magical Words and similar sites (and books and classes) will be here when you get back. Go write something.