Saturday, March 30, 2013

5 Common Hold Ups for Writers

It’s hard to finish anything. Most people don’t. Whether it be cleaning to writing to video games, most of us, if we don’t have some external motivation, abandon things when they get hard.

Of course, the levels of “not doing it” vary from an outright no, to a maybe to an honest yes that just never evolves passed the agreement stage. Some people start, some people might even finish, and yet few take the work as far as their original plans.

And even if you, my devoted reader, are far past the stage of “just thinking about it,” have written some crap, hell, have written a whole bunch of crap, you’ll still find those days in which continuing on seems just too hard to be worth it.

Here are a couple of reasons.

-Procrastination

Procrastinating is an innate personality trait that everyone is born with. What I like about it, however, is it is proof positive that you can change and improve yourself to be the person who you want to be, and not just by the expensive Michael Jackson route. See, in order to obtain success, you don’t necessarily need plastic surgery and medication, you can just do it by sheer will power.

Of course, most people don’t learn to be reliable by choice as much as necessity. Yet, for those of us who didn’t have parents and teachers whip out their rulers and beat the tar out of us the fiftieth time the homework failed to show up (or even give me an appropriate F), we have are on our own when it comes to fixing ourselves.

There are three lies to tell yourself if you want to be a writer: It needs to be done. It needs to be done now. And it will succeed once it is done right.

Any excuse that contradicts those three lies is not helpful. Any thoughts that don’t support those lies aren’t helpful. They’re just demoralizing. And if you are one of those people who thinks that lying to yourself isn’t the best way to go, fine. Tell yourself the truth. It doesn’t need to be done. Ever. And it will probably will fail even if there is a lot of work in it, especially because there is no right way. Okay. There. Feel honest? Good. Go write your damn book anyway.

Procrastination can work, but not when you don’t have a deadline.

-A Belief in Fate

The logic goes like this:

America appreciates innate genius far over learned genius. In fact, we don’t even believe that learned genius is a thing. When we meet our math wizards, our godlike painters, and our Hollywood screenwriters who just seem to have their shit together more than we ever could, we decide it’s because they were meant to do it.

I’m not going to say that there is some uncanny shenanigans going on when it comes to ridiculous success. Luck has to be involved, and probably the personality helped the talents align with the times that just skyrocketed them to the level of genius.

And, of course, there’s always a benefit to thinking that you are meant to do this which allows for rejection to come in its many forms and promptly be ignored as a rite of passage. Plus, it helps a little bit to overcome the statistical unlikeliness of actually getting published, not to mention not having anyone actually read your book.

Yet, there’s still a couple of glaring problems with the fatalist mentality.

First and foremost, one of the number one reasons a person tosses a book he’s writing is because it did not turn out how he expected. He realizes, with a sudden horror, that he is much worse of a writer than he thinks he is. I’ve had this conversation with a good number of people who talk about their story not being good enough, and one man who actually told me that he writes something that is similar to a Stephen King story, then promptly feels ashamed.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. What the hell happened to the concept of practicing? I realize that improving writing style is such a gradual change that it can seem like it doesn’t even exist, but I have to say, from someone whose been doing this for ten years, improvement happens. Improvement happens, eventually you’ll actually write something you like, and you’ll start to have a much clearly understanding of writing in general.

I won’t get too much into the argument about certain people “getting ahead start,” because the rant is too long, but I will say that genius isn’t something easily recognized. Few geniuses define themselves as such, and not until after they’ve been told by others. You may be right about your level of suckage, or you may just be being too hard on yourself. But, in either case, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get better or that you won’t be successful. Realize that everyone has some sort of talent going in, some are just more obvious than others. Just because yours is subtle doesn’t mean it’s useless.

-“Morals”

This one is I think the most important on the list. I put morals in quotes because the problem stems more from mislabeling opinions than it does standing up for them.

What I am about to say can be simplified down to “pick your battles.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be yourself or do what you want to do despite it probably not being the most business savvy. There’s nothing wrong with defending unpopular opinions or using your book as a formal demonstration one what is wrong with the world.

The problem arises when it’s not really what’s going on.

If an author tries to behave as if the world is the way it should be, he’s shooting himself in the foot. Especially when he doesn’t actually care about the agenda he’s taking on.

To simplify matters, I’ll give a ridiculous exaggeration of a mild but actual thought: Typos. So, in reality, a book shouldn’t be judged for its typos; it doesn’t indicate the brilliance of the concept or the voice or the in depth character work. (Okay, it does kind of because if you haven’t read it enough to catch that you used form instead of from, it probably doesn’t mean you haven’t put enough thought into it notice that you killed off the same character twice. Allegedly.) But, your book still deserves a chance and should not be judged for little things like that. And, there’s those hilarious stories of people like Hemmingway’s editor sending him his manuscript back and asking for him to insert his punctuation. Then, in a stroke of genius, he sent back a page of comas and periods saying something along the lines of, “Here. That should be enough.” And it worked! Because it’s freaking Hemmingway.

So people think, “I shouldn’t have to fix my typos. They should consider the meat of the work, not the shallow appearance,” and they use that to legitimize not putting in proper comas.

Now for those of you who are thinking this is all ridiculous, I will put it in slightly more legitimate context. If a person was to write a blog about their personal experience with having a child with autism, does a simple and honest mistake like misspelling, say, mispell, ruin all the passion, meaning, and perhaps even talented writing of the author? It shouldn’t. If we respected them (and that’s what it all comes down to) we should hear what they say and not fixate on one simple mistake.

In a perfect world, an agent would look past typos and see the actual merit of the work (which still might not be enough to get them to care). It just doesn’t mean they will.

So the thought, “I shouldn’t have to fix my typos,” becomes, “I shouldn’t allow my story to be rejected for my typos.”

As an author, you’ll have to sacrifice your opinions at some point in time. Though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, make art oriented around sales, write only about the thin and beautiful, or make a change simply to pander to a bureaucrat, if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to work with people.

It’s not to say to sacrifice things you actually care about just to make money, it’s just to say prioritize and compartmentalize, and really think about how much you care.

Sometimes it’s best to organize morality into different files, and think simply, “This movie is not about feminism, so I’m not going to demand that a woman does a voice over, despite it being utterly ridiculous that she can’t. But, for my next film, which is totally about feminism, I will.”

Sometimes it’s best to recognize that though you believe something, it’s really just an opinion, not an agenda. So you think, “Republicans suck!” but instead of rejecting the agent that took you just because he also published Bush’s autobiography, you take the opportunity because (in this hypothetical scenario) that doesn’t affect you.

And sometimes it’s simply best to realize that it’s a moral you simply do not care about; you’re just being lazy or stubborn.

Refusing to sacrifice any morals and opinions for the sake of success not only is a huge obstacle in the publishing world, but hinders personal editing as well. Willingness to deal with reality instead of trying to create a new reality allows for the author to make active and concrete decisions as well as define quality in a more useful way. Morality can be a number one obstacle despite that sometimes we don’t care all that much.

-Indecision

“Good” comes in many forms, and with that knowledge, it becomes hard for people to discard options. Picking a direction and committing to it, however, is the first and often easiest way to fix bad scenes and turn them into great scenes.

Go to a Redbox and rent one of their independent films. One about vampires would be most appropriate. Watch it and make mental note of the things wrong with it. I have a very good bet that one of the biggest issues is that they won’t decide if it’s satirical or sincere.

People say to me often, “It’s a metaphor if you want it to be.” They claim, “It’s about whatever you want it to be about.” They indicate that they don’t care if people are laughing or pissing their pants in fear, nor do they mind if the reaction couldn’t be further from what they expected. The number one goal of the casual writer is for people to think that they’re good. They don’t care how.

There are three problems with this. One, it reads like that’s what’s happening. The story seems like the creators couldn’t decide what they wanted, so they didn’t bother. This does not look kindly on their perspective experience levels. Two, it doesn’t go to extremes in either direction and seems muddled. The audience doesn’t laugh, but isn’t scared either. Trying to compromise between the two achieve nothing. Great scenes have great emotion, and great emotion requires commitment. And three, it makes it really hard for the author to write.

Indecision, or simply dealing in the unknown, is the number one cause of writer’s block. Not knowing or not being able to decide what happens next prevents the author from continuing on.

By simple act of committed decision making not only breaks free of said writer’s block, but the quality of writing improves in leaps and bounds. A person is more likely to take risks, be extreme, and even be more inspired when he knows what he’s going for and has decided that it’s the direction he’s committed to. People who are still waiting around to have it all, however, get nowhere.

-The inevitable tainting of the concept

This obstacle is unfortunate because the problem is truly devastating, and pretty damn common. As in, having the concept come out immaculately is about as likely as having your child come out immaculately.

We have an idea in our heads, but the idea is incomplete, vague, and poorly formed. Upon trying to put it down on paper, it changes, alters, and isn’t the same. Sometimes it’s better, and the story is being made more complete with greater details. Sometimes, however, many times, it’s just disappointing.

In the same way that once we wake up from a dream we can never return to that euphoria no matter how much we try to remember it, inspiration escapes almost immediately after its conception.

This is a huge issue especially for beginning writers. We have all these big hopes and dreams for this fantastic story that we’re imaging, and yet, the moment we finally get it on page, it just comes out… stupid.

The only way to contend with this is to trudge on. By means of practice, trial and error, and really just experience, the author can slowly start to grow into being able to mark down ideas without tainting them. It takes a lot of work and patience, but slowly, over time, it starts to happen. We get better as we write, and we begin to come up with exactly what it was that drew us to the idea in the first place and what will ruin it.

In order to finish a story, an author has to be willing to deal with his own issues. There are a lot of reasons not to write a book, some a lot harder to solve than even those labeled here. The only way to bypass these issues, however, is simply by doing, finishing, and doing again. By refusing to worry about things that don’t matter and aren’t necessarily true, an author is able to succeed in ways that the average man couldn’t even begin to know how. All he has to do is get over some annoying obstacles.