Being Afraid of Writing

(Firstly, for anyone who might be keeping up, I’ve got the next part of Buried Hope all finished up. It’s a lot longer than I thought it would be at about 300+ pages. Just a few more rounds of editing and it should be good to go. Will be out before May, I’m 90% sure. I’m sorry it’s taken so long, this post can partially explain why.)

2013’s been rougher than 2012.

I’m not sure what it is, because nothing too negative has happened in my life lately, nothing that I didn’t have to deal with last year. I think it’s phases. Phases of bla bla and bla bla and more bullshit that I’m sure no one really wants to hear about, and me telling sob stories is not the point of this post.

I’m writing this post today because I want to talk about one of the biggest side-effects you get when you get into these “phases”: You don’t want to write. 

Image“Now XJ,” you might say, “it’s not just writing. When you’re in the dumps you don’t wanna work at all.” And you’re right, and I should change how that first paragraph went to shift my thesis around, but I like my stream of consciousness more. 

It’s true — when you’re down, you don’t want to work. But when it comes to writing, even when you’re not particularly upset or “meh” or another word that my limited vocabulary can’t find right now, you can still be very reluctant to do it (write, that is). And I’ve realized that one of the biggest things that can put a person off writing is fear (I never said this post would have an original idea).

ImageSo why are we afraid? Why does that fear grip us around the neck so often and keep our hands away from the keyboard, away from clicking the Word document on our desktops just to stray off to another forum or video to pass the time? As writers, we know it’s good for us. Even if we’re churning out poop quality work, the fact that we’re putting words to a page/screen at all is practice.

Let’s get the obvious reasons out of the way. You can be afraid of writing because:
1) You don’t think you’re good enough
2) You don’t know what to write about
and
3) You’re afraid your ideas aren’t original enough.

It’s that third point that really strikes me. It’s that third one that’s kept me from updating this blog for more than a month, making me fearful to come on here and see the dwindling amount of views (not that they really matter at such a low level anyway). It’s that same point that’s making all of the doubting voices in my head scream right now, right as I’m writing these words, screaming “DELETE THIS CRAP AND CLOSE THIS WINDOW.” 

Image

And this goes over to all the writing I do in my life. For this blog, I don’t like making it so personal, so I try to keep all my posts related to writing; which of course, makes me wonder if my topics are any good, or if this post is different enough from X post for me to consider it unique.

For Cracked articles, you know how Cracked has that Workshop forum? I’m constantly seeing people wonder if their premises are any good. It’s funny, because that’s probably one of the biggest things newcomers worry about: Some guys will come in and ask, “Is this a good idea? ‘6 Bla bla bla in the bla bla bla?’ What about ‘6 Pish posh push plesh plash plish?’ Please answer.”

And do you know what the answer is every single time? “We can’t tell you if it’s good or not, you’re going to have to write it down.”  Because honestly, Cracked articles live and die on the entries they have in them. You can have the craziest premise in the world, but if you can’t find the meat for it, it’s just not going to work.

ImageAnd I’m not mentioning those Cracked newcomers to diss them, I’m mentioning them to stress that this is really one of the biggest things people worry about: originality. We’re afraid of our ideas, of our thoughts, we’re afraid of being so influenced by other things that we can’t conjure something ourselves. We’re afraid of that. Sure, a lot of people use that as an excuse to avoid the work of writing the meat in the first place, saying “Oh, everything’s been said already, there’s no point,” and of course if I wanted to be cliche I could include the mantra here, “Everything’s been said under the sun” or whatever it is.

But even for real writers — and by real writers I mean people who actually god damned write and don’t just say they do — this is really a giant stumbling block that has to be leapt over every now and then. 

And it sucks.

But again, when you feel this way, when I feel this way, we just have to remember what the moderators tell the newcomers pitching articles, asking if their premises are any good: “We won’t know till you write it.” And even while they’re talking about factual, informational 2000 word online articles, it applies just as much to fiction writing. Because that line is so truthfully solid it’s like a giant conglomerate mass of solid solidity. If I could somehow find a way to magic that line into an object, I could throw it at you, and you would bleed.

ImageWhile your premise does matter, that’s not what’s going to make your writing a hit or a miss. For every single majorly successful book out there, there are ten thousand other books that have the same premise that never sold more than a hundred copies. 

It’s you who matters. The way you weave it, the way you use the elements in your story, the way you work your words. Everything. It’s all you. If you want to write a generic D&D novel, with elves and dwarves and homophobia and racism, then fine, do it. But don’t write Tolkien. Don’t write RA Salvatore. Forget all that. Forget what you’ve read, what you think and what you assume that particular type of universe/setting would have. You can use your memory as an adjustable frame, but don’t use it as a guide book. Heck, Stephen King loved LoTR, but he didn’t write King LotR. He wrote the Dark Tower, which is about as distinct from LotR as ASoIaF is from Winnie the Pooh.

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But that doesn’t mean the answer to a great story is making your premise as wildly imaginative as you possibly can. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write swords and shields and knights and wizards. It just means you should be yourself.

So the question really is, if being yourself isn’t making your premise as wildly imaginative as you can, then what is “being yourself”?

I like to think of it like a video game. In the simplest form of video games, you have two things that ultimately matter: graphics and gameplay, but in the end, gameplay will always outweigh graphics. A lot of people will tell you otherwise, but no — graphics isn’t what makes a game addicting or not. Don’t believe me? What are the biggest games out there right now? Top of my head — Minecraft, League of Legends, World of Warcraft. All have so-so graphics. For those of you who don’t speak the pale tongue of gamers, here’s a screenshot from one of the biggest and most popular games in the world right now, Minecraft:

Image

 

It’s basically Digital Lego.

And that’s not just because it’s accessible to more people since it has such low requirements; even people with monster machines love this game. It’s because the game has amazing gameplay. You can have the most basic graphics in the world, but if your gameplay is outstanding, your graphics won’t hold you back one bit.

So how does this relate? Think of graphics as everything tangible in a book. Setting, physical descriptions, culture, clothing, everything you can touch, everything you can see. Gameplay is story. Gameplay is the organs beneath the skin (yes I know skin is an organ), the interactivity of the book; how much the book makes a person feel. The emotion. The feels.

So am I saying you should pretty much have the blandest “graphics” you can think of? Of course not. You should have pride in your graphics; make graphics that you can be proud of. But don’t confuse graphics with originality. When people call something generic, it’s because the creator focused solely on the graphics, on the tangible, and gave no gameplay/depth to the work.

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To go back to the original idea, on the fear of writing due to the fear of unoriginality, as I said above, you should just be yourself. The more you worry, the more forced your work will be, and the less genuine truth there will be between the lines. Just, write. Screw the haters, the people who tell you that your ideas won’t work. Because again, it’s the meat that counts.

Honestly, when you think about it, this post that I’m writing right now has been written by writers a million times before. Probably every writing blog has one of these posts. But you know what makes mine different? Me. The fact that I didn’t say “Everything under the sun’s been said” or whatever it is, put an inspirational meme, and then leave it at that.

I made it different, or at least I think I did, and that’s how I know that my fiction might not be so bad after all.

Now I want to eat some meat.

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15 thoughts on “Being Afraid of Writing

  1. This coincided nicely with my rant last night on my poor moods as of late. Thank you for sharing. Really.

    I’ve been fretting not so much on originality as much as feasibility of an idea I’ve been tossing around. But you’re absolutely right. No way to know how it’ll turn out unless I actually put some words down somewhere. So thank you, again.

  2. Thought your article on Cracked today was fantastic. Checked out your blog. And now because of you, I’m put the final words to something I thought I would have never finished. Thank you.

      • You are very brave for pushing on in spite of yourself and putting yourself out there. The will that pushes me through obstacles is the same will that pushes just as fiercely against me. I enjoyed your comparison of imaginative writing to imaginative gaming; it really brought together your point in a convincing and creative way.

    • I remember when I started taking my writing seriously like 2 years ago, I wrote this extremely long email to an NYT writer I admire, detailing my worries and fears and all that, with the slightest hope that he would answer. A week later he answered and he featured my post on his blog, and he pretty much confirmed that yes, everyone feels scared all the time when it comes to writing. That really helped me keep going.

      • That sounds amazing!! I’m not quite at the “putting stuff out there” stage yet, but I’m still keeping it up, in my sluggish, roundabout way. Leonard Cohen, the famous Canadian poet and musician, once described songwriting as “like scavenging, something like farming in sand, something like scraping the bottom of the barrel. The process doesn’t have any dignity. It is a work of extreme poverty”. To know that someone so famous who has produced so much still struggles with every song really puts my work into perspective.

  3. Really enjoyed your Cracked article today. I don’t normally leave comments on articles. Ok I never do. But I glanced over here and I like what I read and look forward to checking out your sci-fi.
    So, good work, keep it up.

    Kim

    P.S. (is that correct? In the comments? It’s not a damned personal letter so whatever)
    Most readers WON’T comment to an author personally. WE are afraid YOU don’t read them. See, we’re just all bunch of chickens.

  4. Pingback: Being Afraid of Writing | wordsbydesign

  5. Thank you for this! Been having a block and I always turn to WordPress to clear my mind, but this time, you opened it a bit!!! One question though, I find my biggest problem writing is the perspective of the narrative. I have something particular in mind, and I want to do it from 2 different perspectives, but I’m considering which character(s) would be the best tool for the telling, or should it be third person, in a more all encompassing unbiased perspective.
    You really got my mind out of sleep mode, and for that I thank you!!!

  6. I’ve been putting off writing and choosing to read The Dark Tower series and play video games instead. This post could honestly have not hit home harder than it did. Nice one. And thanks.

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