The Two Most Important Things I Know About Writing

Fair warning. These two things I’m about to share feel a little like this:

Balance, yo

There is a balance achieved only when you apply both, even though they SEEM to contradict each other. (Spoiler: they don’t.)

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” —James Thurber

Why this is important to you: it gives you permission to write the wrong words.

First drafts are all wrong. The words are wrong, the characters are wrong, the rhythms are wrong.

That’s what first drafts do; they suck. It’s normal. The problem is we get stuck on their wrongness, either unable to write more out of fear or frustration or trapped in an editing loop.

No more of that. Allow yourself to write garbage. As C. J. Cherryh said, “It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly.”

You can’t edit if you don’t write it in the first place.

“Pretend you’re good at it.” —Neil Gaiman

Why this is important for you: believing you can already write it will give you the courage to write it wrong.

Another way to put this: if you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

Look, this isn’t flying a plane. Nobody dies when you mess it up (and you will – that’s how we learn what works).

In order to tell your story, you must carry the conviction deep inside that you can eventually get it right.

It’s long been documented that believing you can do something often enables you to do it. Why? Because this belief gets you moving.

For example: I’m terrified of writing Notte‘s book because it’s the biggest undertaking I’ve ever attempted, but when I think about that, I freeze. If and when I believe this IS my story and I can tell it, darn it all, suddenly I’m able to hear my characters again and get to the next scene. Suddenly I’m able to write it.

I may write garbage (see thing #1), but it’s fixable garbage.

Look, if we can put ourselves into the heads of fairies, ancient kings, aliens, and other beings who don’t even exist, we can put ourselves into the head of someone capable of telling the story well.

Summary

So, one more time, my two most important things:

  • We allow ourselves to write it all wrong
  • We simultaneously believe we can write it all right

These things work.

Give them a try this week and see what happens. You can do this, fellow writer. Now go and make your mistakes as you figure out how to tell your story well.

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