Your breath is cold. Your eyes are cold. Everything about you is cold and stiff.
When you touch me, you whisper against my ear. You chill me, and electrify me all at once.
My body is paralyzed. Paralyzed with cold, white fear.
I don’t hear you, but whatever you say turns me into a tiny ember, and you are the snowstorm that surrounds me.
My hands turn to crystal ice. My joints to snow. Nothing that can hold a pen or pencil.
And then, one day, I hear you and your perfectionistic self.
“No. Go back. There should be a comma there. No. You misspelled that!”
Well guess what
I’m not putting commas there unless I let you.
Enjoy the fire. Enjoy the heat.
Enjoy me as I burn words across this page.
You can’t lock me up. You can’t make me stir. I am fire. I am everything.
I am a writer.
I wrote most of those words at midnight last night, and edited them just now. They were inspired by a post from the great site on writing “The Write Practice” on the best book on writing the author of the post ever read.
The book is Stephen Koch’s “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction.” And the post on the book details how first drafts should be done quickly and without remorse. No going back to edit. All the experimentation and daring you can ask for. Only on the second draft do you go back, brush away the dust that settles in your wake, and develop your characters, touch up the settings, and make sure that it’s the best story it can. If you try to figure it out all on the first run, you risk predictability. You risk losing that creative spark that makes your story fresh and exciting.
And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan anything. Having a few characters mapped out or a general idea of your plot/world is fine. Having a skeleton/base is fine.
It’s the body of your story that should get the most out of pulse and heartbeat—the raw, unedited stuff that you write.
In response to a fellow writer and blogger who also had trouble getting her confidence back in writing after a much needed winter break, I, too, have a confession to make. I recently took up the discipline of writing 150 words a day. It was originally 100, but I bumped it up after a few days. And I’m glad I did. It’s just enough to make me push harder, but not enough to the point I’m exhausted.
I like to call the 150 words I write each day, collectively, a “Staircase of Vignettes”. They build toward a path to be a better writer. Even if they’re shreds of ideas or explorations that have been boggling around in my head. It’s my playground, and my growing mountain.
But somewhere along the line, I got discouraged. Writing became a job. Some days, I just didn’t feel liking writing fiction those days. They ended up bits of memoirs and my thought, but in third person, or second person. I started wondering what good my words did. I started thinking that they kept me from working on my novel, which is what I should be working on. I should also be working on my short story—you know, things that made me look serious and practical.
But I wasn’t getting anywhere with those things. When writing my short story, I would write one part, then go back up to the beginning and make sure the setting was good before continuing, and when I got back, I lost my flow and had to find it all over again.
I was beating myself up.
This stopping and starting had to stop. It was getting my depressed about something I loved. Whenever I wrote, I felt…cold. Stiff. Like I was eking out the words.
Like something was breathing down my neck.
I was at the Fir Acres Writing Workshop before my freshman year of high school, and one of the exercises we did had us write a letter to our “Watcher”—our inner editor that kept us from writing our first drafts. At the time, I thought I was free from him, but it appeared he made a comeback.
And for the first time in years, I truly characterized that part of me. Cold. Objective. Wanting to help, but not realizing he’s actually harming me.
Possibly sadistic and enjoying it when he stops me from writing.
I don’t know why I call it a “him”. It just feels right. Like he’s my opposite.
The Meaning of All This
I know. I sound very… far off the map right now. Like I’m on some other realm of existence. Not quite as casual as I might have been in the past.
But that’s because I’ve been awakened.
I’m serious. I feel like I see what I need to do as a writer, and simply, that’s just to embrace it.
In the past, I’ve always been the one to try and avoid conflict—to not be angry and fiery and assertive. And that bled into my writing. I didn’t feel like my writing was worth writing, because it wasn’t getting me to work on my bigger projects. All because of fear. Perfectionism, even for something I wasn’t even sure I was going to publish. All because of cold, Mr. Watcher whispering behind me, telling me that I should practice on my setting descriptions skills as I try to write the first draft of a story that I hardly know anything about. It’s madness.
In writing, you have to shoot first, and ask questions later. You can ask questions, but if you answer too many, and declare them fact, you put yourself in a box that keeps you in for the whole writing journey. In first drafts, writing is not about limits or constraints.
I know it’s hard. You’ll want to go back and edit. But the moment you do that, you’re trying to defy the physics that you’re trying to set up. You’re undoing yourself.
Be the fire that burns words into the page. Forget about those commas for now.
Be the wave that crashes on the shore. Study the wreckage after.
Be the wind that whips up a tornado. Send that sixteen-wheel truck into that mansion, and see what happens.
Be the mudslide, slowly but surely crumbling away your mountain of doubt. See what treasure hidden in the layers are left behind.
What I’m trying to say here, writers, is simply:
Write what you love. Write what you hate. Don’t stop writing. Each and every one of your words matters, even if you think it doesn’t. It will be tough. You will seize up, trying to think of words. You will seize up, thinking what your writing right now will amount to nothing in the end. And in truth, it might. Sometimes, we just get dud ideas. But if we let those dud ideas get us down and turn us to ice, we’ve already lost. Move on to your next writing adventure. Don’t let a period or a comma stop you the first time around. Play with punctuation. Capitalization. Anything.
Keep going. Defy your inner editor, critic, demon, or whatever you call it. Don’t let him/her always take the driver’s seat.
You are the driver. You are the one in control.
You are the writer.