If I’ve Said It Once

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It’s something we’ve said time and again here, but with a number of new folks coming along on the heels of the con, I think it deserves being said again.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

Many years ago, when I had first started writing with an eye toward eventual publication, I had a friend who loved to tell me all about the novel he planned to write.  It was going to be an epic saga spanning several volumes, with themes of love, patriotism and destiny.  Kings and countries and armies and battles made up the canvas against which a tender love story would be displayed.  And there was magic, too, although it’s been so long now, I really don’t recall if the magic was in the form of battle mages or something more private, between the lovers.  Whatever.  Anyway, he had maps drawn, and he knew every character better than he knew the people in his real life.  At least once a week he regaled me with the details of how amazing this story was going to be.  And as far as I know, to this day he has yet to write a single word of it.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, either.  Just last week a man of my acquaintance asked me to listen to his great idea for a story, then spent fifteen minutes spinning it out.  When he reached what felt like an end, I told him that his idea wasn’t particularly original, but if he developed his own voice and told it his own way, he might come up with a good story.  He said, “How do I do that?”  so I answered, “Sit down and write.”  He walked away with a doubting look on his face, and I have a feeling he was hoping for some other answer from me than being told to write.  But there was no other answer. 

It’s easy to “write” inside your head.  Shucks, it’s necessary to do so.  Up to a point.  The writer has to know exactly how her characters think, what their beliefs and reactions will be and even how they look.  She has to understand how the world works.  Not just the mechanics of the magic, but the nuances of cultural behaviors, the history of the ruling class, how many different languages there are and how long it takes to get from the capital city in the middle of the continent to the eastern seaport on horseback.  Eventually the thinking has to become writing.  Butt in chair, words on paper, and only then does a book result. 

And anyone who’s talked to a published writer knows that this admonition isn’t just for the would-be-published.  Putting butts in chairs is  just as tough for people who do it for a living.  Whether we’re dreading starting a story or struggling with a plot thread that seems to have tied itself into a knot an Eagle Scout couldn’t untie, the urge to run away from the page hits us all.  Everyone has something they love doing besides writing.  When that blank white page stands before you, suddenly it seems like the perfect time to go practice your dance solo or pick herbs from the garden or hike in the woods or any damn thing except write.  That’s when you absolutely must stay in the chair and try to get a page, a paragraph or even just a line written.  The especially weird thing is that we all love writing, but we still find ourselves wondering if we shouldn’t fold one more load of laundry before settling down to work. 

So here’s the answer…no.  No laundry, no dancing, no hiking.  No standing around talking about the story in your head for the hundredth time.  Sit down, find the words, and put them together into a story that will eventually blow some agent’s mind.  Because if you don’t, someone else will. 

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26 comments to If I’ve Said It Once

  • What she said. Underlined. In bold. Flashing.

  • sagablessed

    For those of us without a strong support system or on our own, sometimes writing can a challenge.

    However, I agree that if you don’t write it, someone else will. I had a wonderful idea for a magical system, but never wrote it, and two years later, someone else got published with an almost exact match.

    So to all out ther: WRITE IT ALREADY!! Butt in chair, fingers moving, and do it!

  • charitybradford

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. After finishing a round of revisions, I took a week off to attend cub scout camp with my son. Now I’m struggling to get back in that “SIT DOWN” habit. Must do it today, and every day if I want to get those other books written.

    Thanks!

  • AMEN. It took me way too long to finish my first book (right,Faith?)and a large part of it was “writing in my head’ instead of writing on the paper. I have learned I can edit almost anything, as long as it is on the screen in front of me. But I cannot edit a blank page.

  • “The especially weird thing is that we all love writing, but we still find ourselves wondering if we shouldn’t fold one more load of laundry before settling down to work.”

    Yes. We writers are so good at avoiding writing. I’ve only just started forcing myself to get back to creating new words on my projects after almost a month of insanity surrounding weddings, conventions, etc. I’m looking forward to the weekend; my first without plans in nearly two months. I take that back–I do have plans. WRITING.

  • Hear, hear! I swear, “You cannot edit a blank page” is one of the best lines I’ve learned of late. Something I need to tape to my desk, and repeat as a mantra when the fear sets in.

  • I avoid housework WITH writing. 😉 Dishes aren’t falling over yet? Great, I can get in another couple thousand words then! Course, then I have to take an entire week out of my writing schedule to play catch up…

  • YES! With AJ’s flashing lights and a merengue beat. 🙂

    Yesterday I pushed through (and I mean it was a *battle*) to the end of a short story. It took 2 days longer to write it than the time I had budgeted. And at the moment, it sucks. But it has good bones and lots of nice scenes and I can make it really zing. SO now, I start on phase three of the story. You know, Phase one is imagine it. Phase two is write it. (And it was *haaaaarrd!*) Phase three is fix it. That’s today’s job.

  • Unicorn

    Thank you, Misty. This is exactly what I needed – a hefty kick up the bum. I know what I need to write. I know how I’m gonna write it. I’m just not. Well, time to change that.

  • Nothing to add except wild applause and a bit of neon to make A.J.’s flashing lights stand out some more. Great post. And now I have work to do….

  • Megan B.

    I’ve been having no trouble getting myself to write or edit. But I am feeling stuck because several of my pieces need feedback, and I can’t seem to get it. Finding the right critique partner is a challenge. Meanwhile I just keep writing new stuff and editing old stuff.

  • “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” —Neil Gaiman

  • Gypsyharper

    What is it about laundry (or, you know, insert procrastination chore of choice here)? I hate laundry, and yet it somehow always seems so crucial that I do it when I should be writing. Tonight’s my writing date with my critique partner though – so no laundry, and words will be written. They will. Thanks for the kick in the butt. 🙂

  • quillet

    “Sit down, find the words, and put them together into a story.” This!
    It sounds almost too simple, when you don’t feel inspired and the blank page is glaring at you…but it really is that simple, because the inspiration or muse (or whatever it is) usually won’t visit until *after* you start writing.
    So I’d better get back to work!

  • This is probably my single greatest challenge I face on a day-to-day basis. In my mind, I have written countless stories of heoric deeds and beautiful damsels in distress ( I also have won numerous awards and accolades but that is for another post), but so far only a precious few of these have made it onto paper.

    When I don’t have to put pen to paper, my mind is free to image all sorts of stories, scenes, and dialogues; but when I actually open a Word file and I start to type – my mind closes tighter than Fort Knox. Then my mind starts to wander to other things like Facebook, Magicalwords, Twitter, and Solitare.

    So thank you for this post, it inspires me to BIC and get my stories out of my head and into reality.

    Thank you.

  • I’m glad you guys are benefiting from today’s post. No matter where we are in our writing lives, we all find we can use a kick in the patootie.

    And since we’re decorating my post with flashing lights and neon, can I have glitter on it, too?

  • A. R. Gideon

    This is exactly the reason why I have been getting out of the house and going to my local Barnes n’ Noble to write. When I’m there I have less distractions and I can get the words on the page a lot better. On a somewhat related note, my problem has always been that I get lost in editing. I’m a perfectionist and I want it to be perfect the first time. Now unless you’re someone like Terry Goodkind, that doesn’t really happen lol. So my new motto is “Screw it!” When I’ve written a part that doesn’t quite work but I can’t quite figure out how to fix it, I just say “Screw it” and keep going. It’s better to have a finished work that needs a lot of editing than half a chapter is perfect. It took me too long to figure that out xD

  • Oh! Look! Balloons, too!

  • and glitter. Lots n lots of glitter.

  • Glitter, balloons, flashing neon lights, a merengue beat–this post deserves it all, because apparently I need to hear this a hundred times.

  • Yes! Balloons! And I think we need a dry ice machine, too. Fog is fun!

  • Ugh. Today is one of those days when I would so love to hear the opposite. I want some magic wand I can wave at the stack of research materials and fuzzy, half realized ideas in my head so that they will beautifully assemble themselves into a witty, insightful article that will make other scholars stand up and clap. Or at least I want to be able to write in my job portfolio “thought very deep thoughts about Aldhelm’s teleology of virginity. Was brilliant” and have that mean something. Hey ho, back to work. 🙂

  • Wait! Isn’t all the sign decoration just a way to not be writing? Oh no! Here… let me help you with the sign. I’ll take it on tour and show it to other people… Today was one of those days where I really could have BIC’s. Instead I BOCAWTV: But on Couch and Watched TV. *sighs* I can’t even claim I thought deep thoughts (and I’m not mocking, part of my writing process is spending a lot of time thinking) but I’ve got editing to do, academic work to do, writing on a new shiny to do. *sighs* As Scarlett says “tomorrow is another day.” Though as they said in RENT “there’s no day but today.” *sighs* So I guess when tomorrow is today I’ll BIC.

  • Razziecat

    Flashing lights, music, balloons and dancing…er, gentlemen. 🙂

    ‘Bye now. Got writing to do… 😉

  • Drat! Emily figured out my evil avoidance plan! *growls* Oh well, back the the story…

  • sagablessed

    Dancing…gentlemen? *gigglesnort* How novel! 😀