Here’s a catch 22 for you: describe writing. I want to say that it’s difficult, but the term ‘difficult’ doesn’t seem to accurately represent how challenging it is to come up with a compelling idea, to craft an engaging plot with dynamic characters, and to put that story into words. I struggle to find the words to write words down on paper or, more accurately, type them on a computer screen. HOW ABSOLUTELY MADDENING IS THAT?!
Beyond the process itself, I’m constantly worrying about whether or not my work will ever be found. There’s only so much you can do, especially on a limited budget: try to network with other writers, attend workshops, write, write, write, improve, submit an unsolicited manuscript that will end up in the proverbial slush pile with the dreams and ambitions of other hopeful writers, read, read, read, improve, engage a literary agent, submit a solicited manuscript, edit, edit, edit, improve, hope someone cares enough about your first three pages to continue reading.
As a writer, isn’t that the most soul crushing reality you’ve ever encountered? Editors will only read the first few pages of your manuscript before they decide your story is worth their time. You have maybe eight or ten pages to make an impression, and indelible impression. No pressure or anything.
I’ve had mentors and teachers alike insist that you should only focus on your story when writing – don’t think about any of that other stuff. Chances are, your first story, your first ten stories, will be routinely rejected before you ever get published or noticed or recognized for your efforts. And that’s alright. I’m not afraid of rejection, because it’s a learning experience. I’m afraid of everything else, though.
You start a story with vigor and enthusiasm. No matter how well-read you are, you can’t guarantee it’s the most original idea ever and no one has ever written anything like it before, but the excitement of it all trumps this. Character development, plot twists, rising action, conspiracy, love, hate, comedy, war, drama, syntax, word choice, vocabulary, speech, punctuation – the possibilities are actually endless in the infinite sense of the word! And none of this bothers you as you fly through the first few pages, cobbling together character backstories as you go, making frantic notes to post all over your apartment (unless you’re a plotter, of course, in which case this frenzy is probably giving you heart palpitations).
As the pace slows, though, other thoughts begin to creep in. Your two realities collide; the reality of your story, the world you’ve created with care, the world that means so much to you and you’re hoping to others as well, and the actual world you live in. The world of publishers and editors and printers and taste-makers and critics. You try to write in a vacuum but that’s not really how inspiration works, does it? No creative pursuit ever took place in a space without books, nature, people, history, films, theatre, music, you name it.
So how are we, as struggling writers, supposed to produce anything without thinking about everything else?
I can’t help but be anxious about whether someone would want to read my story! I’m certainly not writing it for the good of my health, because writing makes me feel like I’m losing my mind, but because I want to tell a story that resonates with people. I want people to care, I want it to matter to them. Whether they laugh, cry, get angry, get happy, whatever, I want to elicit some response. Apathy will be the end of literature and storytelling in general.
So if ever you encounter a piece of writing advice that you disagree with, then ignore the hell out of it. Writing is more than a process or a puzzle of characters and events you put together; it’s a very personal experience for both you and the reader. As it is, there’s no one way to do it. Sure, there are definitely frameworks that can help you structure a plot and templates that can help you build out a detailed character back story, but you do whatever works for you. Or, in the words of under-20s everywhere, “you do you.”
If you, like me, can’t block out the worries and anxieties that come with writing, turn them into fuel. Every once in a while, I will stop what I’m writing, even if I’m on a kick, and I’ll sit back and as myself, “would anybody read this?” If the answer isn’t yes or I can’t identify something about it that would appeal to an audience, I revisit the whiteboard (or, as it is in my case, the wall of sticky notes). Because what matters to me isn’t always what matters to other people. My love of Peter Gabriel and Battlestar Galactica can attest to this.
Writing in many forms can be therapeutic. It can be for me, but I reserve that writing for journals and blogs. The writing I do when I’m trying to tell a good story is the kind of writing that should have some appeal. I don’t want to call it commercial appeal, because that makes it seem like I’m out to make a truckload of money and, if that were the case, I wouldn’t trying so hard to be a writer. I’d be an investment banker or something. In a sense, though, the appeal does need to be commercial in that it speaks to a greater human experience (I hate the phrase ‘universal experience’ because it kind of stands on the whole humanist concept of the individual in a way that seems like it’s building on the foundations but is actually rendering it unrecognizable like Mike Holmes destroying a 1950s bungalow and turning it into something ultra modern without any semblance of its 50s swagger).
I think anything I write should appeal to a large audience. I want it to, because I’m not just writing for me. I mean, I probably should be at this point because I’m not very good, but at the same time, I’m not writing for me because I want to get better. I need to know if what I’m putting on paper and sending out into the world is going to matter. And that, folks, is self-validation at its core.
I’m a needy, self-dependent person who likes to think she is pretty independent, but actually craves acknowledgement because I care. I CARE! I refuse to be disillusioned or apathetic because that does not make a great story. I care about my writing, I care about what people think, I hope it will be good, I hope people will read it and think, yes, I was thinking the same thing.
That is if anything I write ever sees the light of day. *gut-busing laughter ensues*