At long last, my very first blog post. I know, I know – I’ve been putting it off. Hilariously enough, part of this post is probably going to touch on procrastination, and I have been a fine example of that since, well, ever, really. But it’s important to talk about it, and perhaps to hear about it from the mouth of someone who struggles with motivation and self-doubt. This blog will be a personal one, but I also hope it will be relatable to the many others who have decided (for some crazy reason) to try their hand at putting words down on paper and turning what they have to say into something that makes sense to the rest of the world. From the amount of editing I have done while writing this one paragraph alone, I can tell you it is not an easy task.
The idea for this post first came to be while I was scrolling through Pinterest, of all things. Like many of you, my social media platforms have slowly morphed into discussion boards on writing. It is good for writers to seek connections, and the desire to learn from one another rather than compete with one another is what makes this craft so amazing. However, like all things on social media, there’s stuff that is good and stuff that is… not so good.
I’m going to stop myself here for a second (just a second, I promise) and say that my purpose here today is NOT to bash other writing blogs. It’s to talk about an individual’s needs, and how the excess of content out there is overwhelming and can harm just as much as it can inspire. We live in a beautiful, messy world where there literally is something out there for everyone: the trick is looking past the corporate algorithms in place that are supposedly meant to “help” you find what you’re looking for and take up your own initiative.
Back to this day (serving as an example of many other days) on Pinterest: I was scrolling through my feed full of recipes, medieval clothing styles, artwork depicting dragons and elves, and kitten pictures where I noticed the kinds of posts I was seeing concerning writing. Some of them were great:
“How to Build Suspense in Your Story” (yes.)
“How to Portray Character Through Dialogue” (yes, please.)
“How to Come Up with an Ending That Ties All Your Plot Points Together” (OH MY GOD GIVE IT TO ME NOW.)
These are examples of blog posts that pick apart certain aspects of storytelling that can be difficult or challenging. Sure, they might not work for everyone, but there is something to these. They focus on CRAFT and TEACHING and are always worth at least a brief skim-through because, let’s face it, no one is ever really a “master” at writing or any craft. There is always more to learn, more to try, more to add.
And then there were some like these, which brought forth more than one confused scrunchy face from me:
“How to Outline When You Hate Outlining” (um.)
“How to Write 100,000 Words in a Month” (Excuse me? Some of us need to sleep and eat and, you know, WORK.)
“How to Write Something an Agent/Publisher Can’t Turn Down” (okay, now you’re just being silly.)
I am not doubting the credibility behind posts like these. For all I know, these writers really have discovered all the answers and are eager to share them with the world. Maybe they’re helpful for some people, maybe they break things down in a way that other bloggers simply haven’t yet. But they were not helpful to me. These articles play on questions, concerns, and fears that writers have in a way that is not necessarily as productive as those first three blog examples. They are less about craft and writing and more about pointing things out that are intimidating and saying that their method should be everyone’s method.
In other words, these articles serve as an example of what I like to call “Writer’s Click Bait.”
I call them that because of their dual nature – those headlines are the questions we all have, but can one person really have the answer for everyone? No. Would we like to think so because it would make this whole process easier? Yes.
Writings is a deeply, deeply personal thing. And it’s really hard – hard in ways that people both writers and non-writers don’t fully understand until they’re sitting down working their way through a project.
What works for someone doesn’t always work for you. If you’re on Twitter and follow the #WritingCommunity or another such community on another social media platform, you have heard some variation of this fact probably a dozen times. And while it is TRUE, it’s a really hard thing to take into account, especially if you’re encountering Writer’s Despair. Writer’s Despair is when you’re worrying you’ll never be good enough, never be able to get the story out the way you want it to, never be able to get that life-changing “yes” from a literary agent and/or publisher.
Trust me, I’ve been there. And while posts like the ones I just listed above can be amazing and wonderful and the exact thing you need to hear, it can also put a lot of pressure on someone who is already feeling weighed down by the pressure they are putting on themselves.
There are no easy roads to take when you’re a writer. There is no magical formula you can just plug into your brain or your laptop or your pen that will suddenly make the ideas floating around in your head to come out in instant-best-seller format. There’s just not. Trust me, sometimes I wish there was. That would make it so much easier on everyone.
But you know what? If there was, then more people would be doing this; more people who might not share the same dedication and belief in their stories as you do, who have the same emotional connections to the characters they’ve gotten to know and the world they’ve created. We’d be getting a bunch of bland best-sellers that were all in the same format (which arguably is the case right now anyway), and that would be BORING. Soon they wouldn’t BE best-sellers anymore because people would just stop buying them. Can you imagine that world? Ew.
Are the people writing those posts writing them to make others feel bad about themselves? Of course not! (At least, I certainly HOPE not). But seeing posts like those last three certainly feel intimidating to the vulnerable writer struggling down the story-telling path. That’s exactly how I felt when I saw them. Even while my skeptical brain was picking the words apart and going “hang on, this doesn’t make any sense” there was a part of me that was going, “shit, I don’t know how to do any of those things. I must suck.”
I mentioned Writer’s Despair earlier, and it’s something that will probably come up time and again in my future posts because it’s something I encounter a lot and know others do as well. But for our purposes today, I’m going to talk about a formula I have unwillingly partaken in on numerous occasions and have seen others fall into many, many times in my life.
Writer’s Despair + Writer’s Click Bait (and other things that supposedly lay down hard and fast “writing rules”) = “Yeah, but” Syndrome.
What, you might be asking, is “Yeah, but” Syndrome? (And is it contagious?)
“Yeah, but” Syndrome occurs when someone gets too caught up in the multiple steps of a project and can cause kind of creative paralysis that might even result in the fatality of their project.
And yes, it is contagious.
But like many such ailments, it can be remedied if caught early.
Let’s break this down in terms of the example post titles I listed.
“How to Outline When You Hate Outlining”. “Yeah, but I hate outlining so I’m never going to do it and therefore my project will never get done because everyone tells me that you have to outline before you start writing and I never do so therefore I can never start writing and and and and *explodes*”
“How to Write 100,000 Words in a Month”. “Yeah, but I don’t even know if my story is going to BE 100,000 words and what if it’s not does that mean I’m not good enough I can’t follow the steps laid out because I’m a single parent with two kids and two full time jobs just to support them does this mean I’ll never get to finish my novel oh my god there are so many people out there that are better than me I just shouldn’t do this anymore there’s no point and and and *explodes*”
“How to Write Something an Agent/Publisher Can’t Turn Down.” “Yeah, but… *explodes*”
Okay, I’m probably being over-dramatic. But do you see what I mean? Our anxious, hyper-active brains set enough hurtles we have to find ways to jump over without seriously injuring ourselves. The idea that there is a “right way to do this and if you don’t do it you fail” is DANGEROUS for creative people.
Now that I’ve set the extremes, let’s look at a real-world example.
My brother is an artist as well as a writer. He’s been working on a storyline for a comic book for YEARS now, and the story had gone through some pretty drastic changes. Now, he’s fairly young and is still in the early stages of learning the basics of how structures work and function to move a narrative along (I will say that these are true. There are basic components needed to tell a story and to tell it well. How you get there is totally up to you, however.) Whenever we talk about his story, I immediately switch on my Writing Tutor brain and try to ask him questions about how the story comes together as a whole. He’s someone who gets really bogged down in the details and has trouble seeing the whole picture, so a lot of times he can’t answer my questions – and doesn’t even realize he should be thinking them in the first place.
So, I’ll say something like, “Okay, I know you have these scenes in your head, but you should probably try to think about the rules of your world. Maybe you need to do a free-writing exercise and see what comes of that.”
His response: “Yeah, but I have to finish this thing and this thing and this thing first before I can do that.” Has he finished those things? No. Has the story gone through yet ANOTHER dramatic change? Yes. Does he have any set rules he’s created for his world yet? No.
If there is one thing I have learned about people from my time working in public service, is that we are really, really good at coming up with reasons as to why we can’t do thing. Silly reasons. Reasons that we put in place to protect ourselves from failing because, let’s face it, we’re all scared to do that in some way or another. “Yeah, but” Syndrome is the result of this.
So, here’s where this post gets a little preachy and emotional. I’m sorry about that, but I think it’s necessary.
You have to write the book somehow. You do. It’s there, inside you. Maybe it’s not developed, maybe it’s messy and needs a lot of work. But it’s there, and it deserves to be written. There is no right way to tell a story as long as the end result is, indeed, a comprehensible story that can be enjoyed by others. If you’re not an outliner, don’t kill yourself trying to write an outline. Personally, I don’t outline – I word-vomit onto a page and take notes in the margins, then go back and try to make sense of it. For my current work in progress, I just barfed up 34k words of a “rough draft” and THEN went through and wrote an outline for how I want the next draft to play out with all I learned from writing the first one. I’ve never done that before, but it was really helpful and I realized I had a whole other book to write before I concluded these character’s journeys.
Whatever it takes, you just have to start writing. If you fall into a hole or can’t figure something out, maybe you can do little exercises or look up a list of questions to ask yourself and your characters that will help you climb back out of the hole once they’ve been answered. There’s no easy way to write a story, and no one comes up with a perfectly good first draft that only needs some minor tweaks here and there.
Moral of the story? Don’t let “Yeah, but” Syndrome take over and paralyze you, and don’t let the internet or anyone else tell you how to write your damn book. The internet doesn’t know you. YOU know you – and YOU are the only one who can figure this out. It’s a beautiful, horrifying truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. If you catch yourself getting bogged down in the details, skip them and go back later. Re-write that first scene if you feel you have to. Write the ending first if you feel you have to. Get up and start tap-dancing if you feel you have to. Through trial and error, figure out what works best for you and the story you’re currently trying to tell, and stick with it. Be willing to change and grow, but don’t take writing advice that maybe doesn’t apply to you or doesn’t feel helpful. Ignore the bullshit on social media and find the good stuff.
Again, there is no right way to tell a story so long as the story gets written. If you find yourself doing something that is sending you in circles, figure out how to get out of i, or else you’ll make yourself so dizzy you won’t be able to stand up.
I know you can do it.
Next week, I plan on breaking down my writing process, exploring the concept of Discovery Writing and finding a story through layers. See you there!
© 2019, Rebecca K. Fisher
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Looking forward to hearing from you!! And happy writing 🙂