Writing — Stop Worrying

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Last time, I discussed the need to write faster in this ever-changing, always-frustrating, sometimes rewarding industry.  Faster, faster, faster.  Write Fast.  That’s the mantra.  It sounds great.  Motivating for some, frightening for others.

But what do you do when things in your story don’t work out?  How can you avoid stumbling along or worse, grinding to a halt?  How, in other words, can you get the momentum running again when things fall apart?

If you’ve been writing for some time now, if you’ve completed a short story or three or maybe even a novel, if you understand the basic principles of writing a tale, then take this advice: Stop Worrying.  Just stop it.  I know that there is a huge difference between understanding how to construct a story and actually doing it.  But as long as you have the knowledge, the rest is just a matter of trial and error via practice.  And one of the cool things about writing is that good practice is done in the form of doing.  So, when you’re finished practicing, you’ll have a completed short story or a novel that you can try selling.

Too often, however, we worry ourselves out of finishing.  Our stories fall apart because we over-think the technical challenges we’ve set up.  Instead, trust yourself.  Don’t put that trust in your writing workshop, your writing crit group, your MFA, or even your vast knowledge of languages.  Put that trust in yourself.  Trust the part of you that knows how to tell a story because, like all human beings, you have grown up being told stories every single day.

Every.  Single.  Day.

From the moment we are born (and for some, while still in the womb) we are told stories.  We are exposed to story-telling in the form of books, television, movies, and music.  We hear it when our friends tell us what happened last night.  We hear it in the classroom when a professor relates a tale to illustrate a point.  We watch stories unfold across the internet as people take a bit of truth and comment, alter, and fabricate around it.  We are read bedtime stories and told tales around campfires and hear stories on the radio as we drive to work.  We breathe in stories just by living in the modern world, and we exhale them every time we share these tales with our friends.

So, you already know how to tell a good story.  Stop Worrying.  The next time you find yourself stuck, just take a deep breath, let it out, and imagine yourself telling your story to a group of friends.  Don’t worry about being artistically eloquent, forget the fancy metaphors, drop the complicated sentence structure, and just tell the story.

When you’ve finished (and you will finish), rest easy — you have the luxury of going back, of doing revisions.  You can add in all those juicy details, those little darlings, once you can see the actual flow of the tale.  But none of that happens if you stall out and don’t complete the tale.

You want to write faster?  Forget all you know about writing (for the moment) and concentrate on what you’ve been taught your whole life — how to tell a story.

Therefore, I’m revising the Mantra.  It is now this: Write Fast.  Stop Worrying.

I’m visiting family in California right now and while I will have access to a computer, my time will be limited.  But I will respond to comments at some point today or tomorrow.  Have a great weekend all!

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23 comments to Writing — Stop Worrying

  • Stuart, that is music to my ears. The only way to teach your brain how to write a story or a book is to write it. Just write it. Just butt in chair and write. And each time you BIC, you are the first person in your world to ever do that. You are the creator.

  • That reminds me of cliff-jumping at 30 Foot, the place in Lynn Canyon where it’s (relatively) safe to throw yourself off and live to tell the tale. Standing on the precipice, looking down at the water fifteen, thirty, even (for the daring) fifty feet below, it’s way too easy to hesitate. The water may be glacier-fed and cold as, well, ice, but it’s not going to kill you. So when I was younger, I came up with a mantra to deal with it (and encourage the tourists): “Don’t think about it. Just say F it and jump.” It got me over a number of cliffs, even the scarier high ones.

    Guess I should replace “jump” with write, though, because I’m encountering that exact same hesitation. I mean, the water’s fine, right?

  • Faith — I’m the Creator? Amen!

    Laura — I think your entire comment works in reverse to me. Writing, I’ve overcome. Cliff-jumping? I don’t know about that one. I might have some fears to deal with. 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Yes, thank you for this reminder to breathe, stop freaking out, and just do what you know how to do. Though, for myself, it’s not worrying about the form at this point so much as worrying about delays. Writing and defending a thesis, having a baby, make it really difficult to find time for my story, and I feel like I’ve been in revisions forever adding big chunks of story that are never gonna get done because of these darned interruptions. So I need to remember that as long as I still plan on finishing it, and as long as I keep getting back to it when I can, it WILL get done. IT WILL GET DONE.

  • I really needed to hear this. I tend to procrastinate but add worry that I’m not a good writer, that no one will want to read what I write anyway and I end up checking email, blogs, and junk before actually forcing my fingers to work on my story. It’s horrible. I have got to learn to just trust myself and let the words flow. ‘Stop worrying and just tell the story’ is going to be my new mantra. Thanks for the encouragment!

  • You have to write a bad novel in order to write a good one. If you’re trying to make it perfect the moment it comes out of your fingertips and onto the keyboard, you’ll be paralyzed from the word go. Give yourself permission to write a bad novel and then go fix it. It’s a lot easier that way.

  • I have never had problems with the elements that going into constructing stories–and that serve as the subject matter for the endless stream of how-to articles in writing magazines. Character development, atmosphere, pacing, balancing description versus action: these I seem to have always had a natural feel for. My writing, the actual handling of the language, has always been technically good. What I most lack is what you say we all have naturally–a sense of story. I have to work really hard to even recognize whether I have a story versus, say, a mere event. It’s as though I lack the storytelling gene and have to make up for it through analytical posturings.

  • Unicorn

    I’m starting to get my head around this, and as a result each time I sit down to the first-draft WIP, I end up with a chunk of writing where things actually happened (unlike the previous story). It’s working for me. Then I get stuck in revisions. Very stuck. My poor neglected WIP in its second draft is being ignored because each time I go back to it, I get stuck trying to fix all its (many) problems. This is where you make it as close to perfect as you can, right? Does “Write Fast” apply to revisions? I don’t have the freedom of a first draft where you just hammer out the words and try to point the story in the right directions. I start to worry over what I’ve changed or written to the point where I struggle to keep on revising. Any suggestions on how I can get up some momentum on a story in revision?
    Thanks for the post, Stuart.
    Unicorn

  • Unicorn – having just finished editing my novel for my publisher … (it hits the electronic bookshelves on 7th September and the physical ones about a week later!!!!!) … I can tell you a couple of things from first hand and very recent experience.It’s SO easy to feel overwhelmed, so here’s my thoughts and tactics …

    1 – don’t try and fix everything at once. Pick one thing to look for and then read through. Then pick something else and do it again. What you’ll find is that you’ll spot other stuff as you go along. Maybe highlight each ‘thing’ with a different colour.

    2 – don’t look it as editing the whole MS. Do one page at a time, (or one chapter) then get up, walk around the room, something to give your mind a breather, then get back to the next one, and the next one, etc until you reach the end.

    3 – Trust your process. If you do second-guess yourself, flag it, or make a note somewhere, but keep going. You can always revise your revisions.

    Hope this helps.
    Widder

  • Faith said, You are the creator.

    Okay, now I’m hearing Nomad (from the original Star Trek). “You are the creator, I am Nomad. I am perfect.”

    *grins*

    Nope, not a thing to do with Stuart’s great post, but that’s where my brain went.

  • Laura said, The water may be glacier-fed and cold as, well, ice, but it’s not going to kill you.

    No, because I’ll have died of fright long before I got anywhere close to the water! You are a braver woman than I. 😀

  • mudepoz

    I’m with Unicorn. Blasted revisions ended up to be more writing new than anything else. Gack. I’d prefer to jump into a gorge, I know I can do that 😛

  • Hope you enjoy your trip, Stuart. I have tried to write this way and it doesn’t work for me. I wish it did — I wish that I could just write without fretting, but for me the fretting is part of my creative process. Weird, I know, but true. We all bring our own baggage to the creative process; this, I guess, is mine. But I love the sentiment, and WISH I could make this work for me.

  • Rhonda

    Unicorn – I wouldn’t worry about “close to perfect” in the second draft. I’d worry about making sure the entire story is there first. Perfect can come in the third or fourth draft.

    I recently finished a third draft where I finally got all the plot holes filled and the foreshadowing dropped into place. It’s not perfect, but it is finally whole. Only *NOW*, for the fourth draft, will I worry about making it as close to perfect as I can get it, because only now do I not have to worry about plot holes and character motivations and other such structural stuff. That’s already taken care of.

  • Where can I get the t-shirt?

    Write Fast.
    Stop Worrying.
    -Stuart Jaffe (on the front)

    http://www.MagicalWords.net (on the back)

    I wonder what swanky slogan Ed’s going to put on his shirts?

    Cheers,
    NGD, who really does want the t-shirt.

  • Razziecat

    This is such spot-on advice, it really is. I learned that if I just go ahead and write, without worrying about where the work is going or how good it is, the story begins to flow and almost writes itself. I have over 40,000 words written on one story that came about only because I decided to just “see where it goes.” Without really planning to, I wrote about a third to one half of a novel. It needs fleshing out and eventually revisions, but it’s amazing how much you can do when you Just. Write. The. Story!

  • I agree with most of the rest… and that was the biggest shift in my thinking to come out of my time at Uncle Orson’s Workshop this week… focus on just telling the story and the details will take care of themselves.

    Ed – you were so right: OSC’s workshop was definitely worth it (especially as someone that *does* want to teach creative writing someday)…

  • I’m printing this and taping it to Raven’s forehead.

  • Whew! I just got back from a long day having fun (took my son to Universal Studios which was about the millionth time for me, but that place is forever changing, so lots of fun all around). Looks like y’all have been busy chatting with each other. Good stuff. I’m glad to help you all get some persepective — even if, as is the case for David, that persepective was merely, I can’t do it that way.

    For those of you having problems with revisions, I suggest searching this site because I know we’ve discussed this many times (it’s also a topic covered in How to Write Magical Words). And as I’ll be doing revisions of my own in about a month or two, I can almost guarentee that we’ll be talking about it again.

    For those desiring t-shirts, we’ll we don’t have an MW Store just yet, but hmmmmmmmmmm it sure sounds good,doesn’t it?

    And finally, LScribe, be nice to Raven’s forehead.

  • Well, if you *are* going to do T-shirts, David did mention at ConCarolinas the possibility of reproducing the one I showed up in (“Magical Words MINION”) as a possibility. (And I’m happy to share the design. It was fun to make.) 😉

    @Misty – It’s not *that* bad. Sure, it involves scrambling over jagged rocks and reaching for toeholds in places, but it’s a lot of fun!

    @Razziecat – Thank you for mentinoning the idea of revising in bits and pieces. I’m at a place in revisions where the section needs a lot of work, but it felt like too much as a whole.

  • I think I reached this level yesterday finally. It happened a few times on the finished work, but this is the first time on the fantasy novel where I hit that “zone” where everything else falls away and I just write and I cleared 4,280 words for the day before I quit. Also got my word count for the week, so I think I finally got my head back in the game. I’ve been working toward a 10,000 word goal for the week and 2,000-2,500 for the day. Despite missing a day due to housework, I still cleared 12k. And yeah, I had to slap myself down whenever a part of my brain said, “oh, I think I forgot to mention this earlier.” I just continued on and I’ll catch it in revisions.

    Keeping that momentum, I figured I can finish the first draft in 8 weeks. Not too shabby for a two-finger typist. 😉

  • Daniel,
    Nicely done on the word count. Keep it up.
    Cheers,
    NGD