Anonymous asked: “From your recent posts, I gather that writing is a lot like mastering the force. You do, or do not. There is no try.”
Well, yes and no. Writing is much like The Force, but not in that sense. Writing, like the Force, can change minds and sometimes even choke your enemies. It is ancient and can touch on every person and every thing in the universe. It is awesomely difficult to master, but it holds us all together, and for that reason alone, we must endeavor to understand it.
First, let’s define The Force for those unfortunate folks that haven’t seen Star Wars.
The Force (n): The energy field created by all living beings; a metaphysical power that is present everywhere.
So let’s get into how this “Do or do not, there is no try” business enters into writing.
- Trying is doing. To be a writer, you must write. You do something by practicing. Someone who wants to learn how to play basketball would get a ball and learn to dribble. In order to learn something, you have to do it. In order to learn to write, you have to practice. Do exercises, work off prompts, write about things you care about. Get an idea for how you like to structure words, find writing you like, and get excited about the written word, and soon enough you’ll have a feel of things.
- Trust your instincts. A writer needs to read. When you read, you get a feel for language, its structure, and its nuances. This is experience that you will only get from reading literature, and it is critical to your success as a writer. This is because when you read something, you will be able to recognize whether it is awkward, not concise, lacking, or brilliant, and recognizing writing as these things will make your work better.
- All writing is rewriting. This aphorism tells us that few writers can just sit and ooze brilliance onto the page. Most of us have to sit there and agonize over every word. That’s the luxury of writing as opposed to speaking; you are able to consider everything very carefully. In the words of Tolstoy:
In writing, then, there is actually very little “do,” in the sense that you sit and write and say “done” once your pen stops moving. There is much more to it than that, and that is where the “try” comes in.
“I can’t understand how anyone can write without rewriting everything over and over again.” (x)
- Be relentless. Go all-out. A writer should stick to his or her beliefs, and if you want to be a writer, you need to stick to the belief that you should be a writer. Sit down and write. Talking about writing is just that: talking about writing. Thinking “no, that wouldn’t work,” or “no, nobody would read that,” that’s not even trying. You’re not doing until you sit and write.
- Focus on you. You’re probably not the next Hemingway, but why should that stop you? Who wants to be Hemingway? Hemingway is Hemingway. Be yourself. Don’t worry about the market or getting an agent or published or a job or any of that horrifying stuff, just worry about your story, because none of that matters unless you have something that you believe in.
The long and short of it is that all writing is practicing, and so all writing is doing. If you’re working hard at it, trying to make it wonderful, that counts as doing. Now, is your work a masterpiece? Probably not. Have you said something worthwhile in somewhere in there? Probably, and that’s enough for it to matter. Keep working at it, and eventually you’ll be proud.
Thank you for your question! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions about this post or writing in general, please use our ask box.