22 September 2012

Something else writers should stop doing

The other day I came across author Chuck Wendig's great article "25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right Fucking Now)," which offers a lot of advice that resonates with me, most especially #3 (Stop Writing in Someone Else's Voice) and #14 (Stop Playing it Safe). But there's one bit of advice on which I want to offer an alternative perspective.

In his first rule, "Stop Running Away," Wendig urges himself and other writers to follow through on their commitments to themselves, even if they don't feel inspired to do so. "You want one thing but then constantly work to achieve its opposite. You say you want to write a novel but then go and write a bunch of short stories. You say you’re going to write This script but then try to write That script instead. Pick a thing and work toward that thing."

At first blush, this seems like very sound advice. Of course we want to set goals and carry them out. But in my experience, trying to dominate my Muse results in a lot of internal conflict, which in turn leads to less writing. I expend energy trying to force myself to do what seems logical, what I think I *should* do, or what seems like a good idea at the time, and at the expense of doing what I'm inspired to do or what comes more naturally. And then I have less energy to write, and the writing I do produce is both less satisfying and less effective.

So what's the alternative? In my post "On never being good enough" I mentioned the idea of using where I'm at now to get where I want to go. In that context, I was talking about accepting my current level of skill/knowledge and treating it as worthwhile, even if "it's not where I someday want to be." But the idea of accepting where I am is also applicable to what Wendig calls "running away." He seems to be suggesting that writers should override their inspiration in the moment if it doesn't align with what they think they *should* be doing. I would argue that you can do what you're called to do and then figure out how that helps you achieve your goals.

A couple months ago I decided I wanted to write and self-publish some short erotica as a way of drawing more attention to my pseudonym and hopefully boost sales of the novella. But then I started having an affair with a friend through poetry. I was inspired. I wrote at least one poem a day, sometimes as many as three. And I loved them. But I was also nagged by guilt and anxiety because the short erotica wasn't getting written. How was I going to make any money as a writer if I spent all my writing time writing poetry? (No offense meant to the poets out there; there just isn't a whole lot of money in poetry these days. Especially as compared to erotica.)

And then one day I was like, "Okay, let's look at it this way. Your goals right now are to market yourself and to start making some income off your writing. You thought you were going to do that through erotica, but instead you're writing poetry. Is there any way to use the poetry to help with marketing and/or income?" And boom: that's all it took to change my perspective and stop sweating it.

I realized I could read my poems at open mics and start building local awareness of my work, and I could submit some of the poems to lit mags that pay and make a little money in addition to getting my work in front of more readers, and, it turned out, my friend and I could turn our affair in poetry into a chapbook manuscript that (in my opinion) kicks some serious ass.

Wendig says he wants to stop doing "the opposite" of what he says he wants to do. But it seems to me that writing a bunch of short stories is not the opposite of writing a novel. Nor is writing That script the opposite of writing This script. The opposite of writing is not writing.

So on my own personal list of things to stop doing, I'm replacing "Stop Running Away" with "Stop Trying to Beat Your Muse into Submission." Because if I'm constantly shushing the voice of my Muse, sooner or later my Muse will tell me to go fuck myself and find someone else to inspire, and then I won't be writing anything at all.

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