writing

You don’t have to be great to start…


The joke’s on me.

For a few days now, I’ve been talking to my friend about the fact that the only way to get over a writer’s block is to write. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’ve realised that we are our own worst critics and that if we edit and proof read as we write, chances are we will stop half way through. How many unfinished posts I have hanging around on my dashboard. How many texts I have in notebooks, on my phone, on any scrap of paper. Ideas that I save for later but that I never revisit.

His problem was (is?) that he’s to tough with himself. He wants to create a perfect post, so if it doesn’t reach his standards, he just deletes it. My answer was, has been, and will always be to just write. That’s pretty much the topic of his last post (hello there!)

Well, the joke’s on me. I can’t write today. I’ve started this post many times already, and each with a different topic.

See, I have a specific approach to writing, I write from my gut. It wasn’t always like that though. I used to write a sentence and go over it a hundred times until I was happy with it, and most of the times, I wasn’t happy with it. Not because it wasn’t perfect, but because I would normally feel silly about it. It’s a bit like when I’ve tried to write down a sex scene in my novel, I’ve simply left that space empty and thought I would get back to it at some other point.

When I say I write from my gut, this is what I mean: I think of a topic, and then I get this sort of urge to write about it. I might start a post and suddenly I don’t feel it. I still like the topic, I’m just not in the mood to write about it, so I suddenly think of something else and write about that instead. Take today, for example, my plan was to write about breaking bad habits, and instead I’m writing about this, just because of something a friend wrote that lingered in my mind.

I mentioned NaNoWriMo earlier. If you’ve never heard of it before, let me tell you it’s good. It’s a writing challenge. You’re supposed to write down 50k words during the month of November and the way to do it is by just writing. No editing, no re-reading, just type. At the end of the month, everyone who has written the number of words required is a winner. Once you’ve written that amount of words, you already have a novel. You don’t believe me, do you? The Great Gatsby has around that number (50,061 words), Lord of the Flies (59,900 words) and many others. Of course, then there are the Tolkien and Dostoevsky, and similar, some with novels of more than 500k words, but hey, we need to start somewhere.

I’m not a professional writer, so I can’t say how they actually go about writing. Do they write a page and edit it before going on? I have no idea. However, for amateur writers, criticism is our biggest fear. Again, we are our own worst enemy here.

The first time I participated in NaNoWriMo, I didn’t do very well, to be honest. Sure, I wrote about 30k words, but I didn’t win. I had a novel in progress already, but I didn’t want to use it for this, as I thought it would only make it worse. However, I didn’t want to write something entirely different, so as to not lose sight (and inspiration) of the one I really wanted to do. I decided to try anyway. For a long time I was trying to find something to write about, and then it hit me: I would write about the story that happened before my novel. A sort of prequel.

I set off, not really knowing what I was doing and terrified of not checking what I was writing. It was against everything I’ve ever done. In my mind, it’s easier to edit as you go than to wait until you have a massive chunk of pages and begin the task of making them readable. However, I resisted temptation and kept writing. At some point, I hit a wall, and was a bit disappointed with the novel. Basically, I was forcing myself.

NaNo came to an end and I was both disappointed and happy about the outcome. I wanted to have written a novel, but I never expected to do it, so 30k words were quite a feat. I left the novel on the side, parked, with the intention of picking it up at some point, but feeling I needed a break. That break lasted a year. November came again, and I tackled the novel once more. I filed away what I had already written and while I did continue the story, I reset my word count to zero. I managed to win this time. It was awesome! You can read about my experience here.

What had changed? Well, first of all, I realised that if I could write 30,000 words I could certainly write 50,000. Then, my mindset changed. No more editing. Write from the gut. Just write.

What this method accomplished was that the story evolved by itself. When I heard about writers saying how their characters did unexpected things, I always thought that was bull, but I discovered it isn’t really. For example, one of my characters is quite stuck at the moment, just because I let the story flow, without thinking or judging, and now I’m not sure how to get her out of that mess (yes, I’m still stuck in the same place, haven’t written a single word since then).

I guess I’m writing about this because I can feel NaNoWriMo approaching. September is coming to an end, so my mind is already excited about NaNo (and Christmas, but that’s definitely a different story…)

When writing, as with pretty much everything in life, the most difficult step is the first one. You want to go running, and you feel your body velcroed to the sofa. You try to stand up, and suddenly your whole body aches and complains. It knows what you’re trying to do and sure enough, it’s more comfortable to lie around eating comfort food and watching TV. You don’t. You lace up your trainers and set off, and hell, the first minute is painful. Somehow, as the miles go by, you feel a bit better, and then better. When you finish, you wish you had run longer. Writing works in exactly the same way. You stare at a blank page or screen and want to write, and your brain grumbles and complain. It hurts to stretch and work out, and don’t be fooled, any creative activity is a work out for your brain! Good news is, the more you work out, the easier it becomes – just write!

You’ll find that the first paragraph feels strange, stiff and unwelcoming, but as you keep typing, words flow more easily. You’ve already gone through the worst, you just warmed up, just keep writing. Write, write, write! Write until your fingers hurt. Write whether it makes sense or not. Write. When you’re doubting the quality of your text and you feel like giving up, write. When you feel you’re way behind your schedule, write! When you think the idea is absolutely useless, write it down anyway. It might not be the best novel ever, or the greatest post, but it will teach you an invaluable lesson:

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
Attributed to more than one author

Quality is subjective; facts, figures, however are not. Whether you wrote a word or a thousand, you wrote. You’ve done it. You are a writer. There’s no exam to pass, no certificate to earn; as long as you write, you are a writer. You took the most difficult step: you faced the blank page, you got off of that sofa and warmed up.

You did it, you started. Now, you just keep going.

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5 Comments

  1. Awesome post, thank you for sharing your experience from NaNoWriMo. This is going to be my first year attempting NaNo and I am so excited. I look forward to reading about your progress.

    • I’m glad you liked it! NaNo is an extraordinary experience, whether you win or not. You learn a lot about yourself and about your creative fears. I will be participating again this year – whether to finish my novel or (hopefully, but unlikely) start a new one, we’ll see!
      I hope you do well and let us know about your NaNo progress too – although blogging and NaNo might be difficult! 🙂
      Thanks again.

    • Thank you! It’s something we “forget to remember” way too often!

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