A Writer’s Vices

I’ve been working on revisions for DARK VICTORY, and recently I came to a major realization in the midst of berating myself for not “writing right” (breaking one of my own rules – no floggings).  The part of me that follows the rules, the part of me that strives mightily to please my teachers and earn my good grades – that dutiful, sweet, carefully-censored and forcibly civilized me – that me should *never* be in charge of getting the story out of the ground.  And despite all of my posts here and elsewhere that feature helpful tricks and tips, in the end it all comes back to this:

It’s the lazy, stubborn, disgruntled, jealous, vengeful, bitchy, daydreaming, and HONEST me who has the stories to tell.  And the way she goes about telling the stories – at the last minute, in a white-hot blur, with tears and curses and glasses of wine at 3 a.m. – is NOT the way the rule books tell you to go about this whole fiction career thing.  I guess the point of this little rumination is that your goal is not to “write right,” to write dutifully for an hour every day, to write the way the so-called experts – including me! — tell you is the proper way to write.  Don’t write for a pat on the head or for the A+ at the top of the page.  Write because you’ll die if you don’t, write because it’s exhilarating or simply too fun not to do it.  Write because you must get your revenge or your thirst slaked, or write because your heart is full enough to overflow. 

Instead of beating yourself up for your wayward, wicked ways, (like I do!) read the advice that many worthy writers, editors and agents offer you all over the wonderful blogosphere – but alter the directions to suit your writing road, to actual conditions on the ground.  Where good writing is concerned, rules are made to be broken, especially your own.  All that matters is finding the idea and bringing it as whole as possible onto the page.  Don’t you worry how you get it done.  The only thing to remember is what Stephen King says:  do not come lightly to the page.

11 Responses to “A Writer’s Vices”

  1. 2 michelelang
    May 3, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Yes. Lately I’ve been saying YMMV quite a bit to newer writers…there are so many good pieces of advice out there, and yet they may not prove helpful to you where you stand, alone with the story. If you can let it go, stay honest, and write what you’ve got, I say you’re ahead of the game.

    Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  2. May 3, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks for this post. As a newbie writer, I think I was always in search of some magic formula the Pros use to write killer books. Even though the advice of “write every day” and ” write because you love it” were fairly consistent, what I didn’t figure out right away was that is something different for everyone. You have to honor your process, whatever that may be. 🙂

  3. May 3, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Great thoughts. I know the dutiful, people-pleasing, rule-follower in me is what most often brings on creative frustration(I don’t believe in “writer’s block”). And beyond that, that part of you is usually boring. Let your wicked, flaky side write the story, and have that other poor fellow clean up the mess at the end.

  4. 5 michelelang
    May 3, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Hey Gwen —

    I completely agree — and your process might evolve over time, or might change depending on the project you’re working on. I can spool off non-fiction projects quite rationally 🙂 It’s when I’m writing fiction that I have to let the story be the boss. For a control freak like me, that’s a scary realization LOL

    When the writing is going easily, I can move in and out of the country of the story without too much angst. But when a story is giving me fits, I have to surrender to it, let it have its way with me. And when daily life gets in the way of me going deep, that’s when my bitchy writer woman gets ornery 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts! I love the phrase “honoring your process”…something I need to do more often…

  5. 6 michelelang
    May 3, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Atsiko — Rock on! I couldn’t agree more 🙂 Creative frustration is such a perfect way to describe that feeling of being thwarted, either by your own fears or by daily life pulling you away from writing. That frustration wants a voice — and it’s when you give that marginalized, silenced, ignored voice a platform that the writing explodes out.

    I had a very interesting experience today that reinforced all this big time. I gave a presentation about my upcoming release for a phone interviewer today, and dutifully recited it (she was helping me improve the presentation). She didn’t really like it very much — and when she asked me to clarify some of the things I had said, I started speaking off the cuff and riffing off ideas I had tried to express in the “proper” way in my canned presentation.

    She thought my riffs were far more interesting than the prepared, self-conscious stuff I had written. Moral of the story: I need to shoot from the hip more. No more inner censorship — let that creative frustration find its voice.

    Thanks so much for your comments!

  6. May 4, 2010 at 7:46 am

    I am constantly second guessing myself. It’s hard to write a story when you can’t get through a paragraph without going back and changing it and then changing it again. I have to force myself as Nike says, to just do it. (Just write)

    One of the best words of advice I’ve read is from L A Banks, she said, “Just put your story on paper. Just write it and get it down.” You can get it right later.

    I’m deep into rewriting my first draft. Thankfully, I was able to push past the second guessing and finally as L A Banks said, get the bare bones on paper. Now, I have to get it right.

    Thanks for the post.

    P.S. I was able to write an A+ paper after two glasses of merlot. Took two, just to relax and let it flow.

  7. 8 michelelang
    May 4, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Hey Melissa:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this…I used to think doubting myself was a grim sign that the work was not going to prove worthwhile, but actually I’ve found it tends to be the other way. The more I second guess, chew the scenery and flip out over a piece of fiction, the closer I am getting to expressing a difficult truth. Honesty reads well, but it’s often hard to write.

    I wish I could serenely churn out my daily words like so many fantastic writers seem to do, but it’s not the way I do it, unfortunately — at least not with this project. Better to honor my process as Gwen says, and allow my creative frustration a voice, as Atsiko says 🙂

    Wishing you a good rewrite!

  8. May 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    *Breathes a sigh of relief* I’ve never been one for rules. For a bit there I honestly lost myself and didn’t like the writer me. Thanks for giving her back to me. (Hugs)Indigo

  9. 10 michelelang
    May 18, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Dear Indigo — Thanks so much for your comment. Hugs backatcha 🙂

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