Today’s ‘Writing Craft’ Question: Everyone I know is writing amazing stuff. One of my friends is on his way to being the next Neil Gaiman. My work is so bland, so boring. What can I do to get out of this rut?
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ― Rumi
You want to start writing again? Stop comparing your work to anyone else’s. Down that road lies madness and inactivity.
The more you compare yourself to other writers, especially to the luminaries, the more likely you, a bag of Doritos and an extraordinary round of Netflix binging is going to be a mainstay in your life.
You have to write, by yourself, for yourself, until the only voice you hear is the one telling you to write faster.
It is great to admire other writers. But that’s not writing.
It is great to enjoy their work. But that’s not writing.
You will hear, a good writer reads constantly. But that’s not writing.
Learning different writers processes can help you improve. But that’s not writing, either.
Learning the craft: outlining, editing, structure, plot, theme, characterization are all good. But they are still not writing.
Only writing is writing. The part for which there is no substitute.
Visualization won’t help, wishful thinking changes nothing, only the awful effort of opening a vein and bleeding onto the page, finding those inner places of discomfort, those barriers against your innermost feelings can put words that matter on a page. Words that move others to think, to consider, to empathize, to feel, require YOU to do the same.
Putting one god-forsaken word after another into a sentence filled with meaning matters. Even if in the beginning, the meaning is nothing more than the sentence provides.
I sat and watched.
I sat and watched the waves.
I sat and watched the waves cover the body.
I sat and watched the waves cover the body as it slowly floated.
I sat and watched the waves cover the body as it slowly floated out with the tide.
I sat and watched the waves cover the body as it slowly floated out with the tide — and I was relieved.
The first six sentences tell you nothing. The seventh tells you everything.
Writing is a brutal art-form. You start with no materials, no inspirations, nothing to emulate, producing nothing you can hold. Nothing you can show someone and have them immediately feel it. Visual artists can elicit a response, for good or ill in five seconds. Not so with writing. Only the masters can write a sentence that can move a world.
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” — Rumi
Okay, that was two sentences. But what those two sentences reveal is deep.
Writing requires you to create an ephemeral dream, convince someone it is worth viewing and when you are done, leave them with a concrete memory of a thing, a place or an event that has never existed before they read it.
Writing and storytelling is the ultimate act of creation. There isn’t anything harder than that.
So cut yourself some slack. You are doing a job few ever manage successfully. I didn’t say stop writing. I said, cut yourself some emotional slack. It is your anxiety which prevents you from reaching deep enough to write significantly.
Begin your writing by forgiving yourself for its current lack of perfection. Then write until your ambition is equaled by your craft.
Get up every day and write 250 words. One double spaced, one-inch margined, page of text (in courier).
On a day you literally can’t, open your favorite book and copy 250 words. Read them when you are done. Seek the significance in those words which took the place of your own.
Come back again tomorrow and repeat. Every day will get easier.
If you have any of the true stuff of a writer, one day you will say, “One page isn’t going to cut it. My idea now needs two.” Add pages as needed. Apply earlier craft lessons, stir in emotional connections, embarrass a friend or enemy by having them appear in your work, repeat as necessary…
Then you have stopped listening to other voices and can only hear one. The one that says “Dammit, I am a writer. Now get the hell out of my office, I’ve got a deadline to meet.”
Don’t forget to hide that body when you’re done…
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد رومی), also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (جلالالدین محمد بلخى),Mawlānā/Mevlânâ (مولانا, “our master”), Mevlevî/Mawlawī (مولوی, “my master”), and more popularly simply as Rumi (1207–17 December 1273).
Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries.
His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet” and the “best selling poet” in the United States.
Thaddeus Howze is a popular Top Writer on the Q&A site Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fifteen hundred articles in a five year period.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in fifteen different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.