Stop Thinking, Start Writing
As long time readers of the blog may know, I want to become a professional writer. The whole reason for starting this blog was so that I could become a better writer through the process of regularly writing for public consumption. One piece of advice that just about every professional writer gives is that the way to become a writer is to write. Write every day. Write constantly. Practice, practice, practice. Everywhere I look I find that same grim truth. There is no magic bean that will make you better at something, and talent is secondary to experience. The only way to get better is to write, write, write.
The problem is that I really suck at that.
I have tried several times to put a schedule together where I write every day. I never lasts. Writing is hard work, and most days I’d rather not do it. At the beginning of the blog I wrote a post three times a week, and wrote 750 words of personal reflection two times a week. Today I write about one post a week, and I don’t do reflective writing anymore. certainly some of this has to do with my work schedule. I have just enough time in the morning to get ready for work, and when I get home I have to cook dinner and do some billing work on the side that helps pay the rent. Any free time after that I’d rather spend relaxing, reading, watching tv, or playing games. Then my wife wakes up (she works nights and has a schedule that is effectively flipped from mine) and I make it a point to spend the rest of the night talking and being with her since I don’t get to see her in the mornings. This doesn’t leave too much time for writing. On the other hand…honestly, it doesn’t take too much time to write. I can bang out a blog post in under a half hour unless I need to do some research. Yet I find myself constantly choosing to do other things over writing.
Take today, for example. I knew I wanted to write a blog post. I’ve been meaning to for days. I had a few rough ideas of what to write about. Yet when it came to actually typing the words out, I stalled. I couldn’t start. All my ideas seemed too complicated, or not interesting enough, or just plain silly. None of them were good enough. So, as I usually do, I just sat there thinking and thinking and thinking while staring at a blank screen.
That’s when I realized it. I’m thinking too dang much.
During my freshman year of college I took a public speaking class, and later participated in our schools forensics team (which is basically speech and debate). I had particular trouble with “impromptus” which were short speeches that had to be delivered with only two minutes of preparation time. I hate impromptus. I struggled with them. My impromptus would be full of pauses and interruptions. My professor would help me work on them, and every time he had the same advice. “Stop trying to find the perfect word! Just keep talking.”
It occurs to me now that I have trouble writing regularly for the same reason. I want my work to be good. I want it to matter. I want it to be important. Because of that I never actually get around to writing. Honestly, when I let myself go and just start typing it’s quite relaxing. It’s starting to write that is a real pain.
I’ve been working on a short story for a few weeks, part of my ongoing attempts to get published in a sci-fi site. I had a cool idea and I couldn’t wait to get it written. I planned it all out from beginning to end. As I wrote I added more and more details. I thought hard about developing the characters, describing the environment, and making sure that the plot was not heavy handed or confusing. Because of all that thinking I haven’t touched the thing in over a week. It’s gotten to heavy. Writing it is a slog; I’m trying to make it perfect, and perfection is just too hard.
Isaac Asimov, one of the most well loved writers of science fiction in history, once banged out a short story in a half an hour for one of his publishers. His work is a bit infamous for being dry, mechanical, and to the point. He understood that not every story had to be perfect. And frankly, I think I’m more likely to actually succeed in writing if I try to emulate that style. The way I’m going now I’m more of a Tolkien: a man who spent years writing his books, which were obviously the product of a great deal of thought. After The Lord of the Rings took off he promised his publishers that he’d get The Silmarillion into proper reading shape. Up until his death he would tell you that he was still working on it, when in reality he hardly touched the thing. I love The Lord of the Rings but Tolkien was a professional professor first and a writer second. If I’m going to become a full time writer I’m going to have to go for volume first. A masterpiece will have to come later.