Sunday, August 30, 2009

Response to Writing Without Inspiration

Somehow, reading this (Diane's Saturday post on writing without inspiration) made me sad. Why? I am not exactly sure, but the choice seems to be one of writing uninspired (very sad) or reluctantly giving up (also sad). Many of the comments did seem encouraging though, especially Anthony's 12,000 word day. I want to find out about that!

What do I do?

Now, I am more of the mind set to plan if I am uninspired. I've gotten out the notebook, which is one of many school-type composition folders, and written notes or checklists. I ask what if questions, and most of all I think about which point of view character has the most at stake. In other words, I get into the story by thinking about which point of view character should be next.

Most likely (if I was in the situation Diane described) I would spend a day or two, or even a week on occasion, just planning and making checklists. I would likely even write out scenarios in the notebook. You could call them warm ups or false starts, or even a rough draft if things worked out well. After awhile, all this notebook time leads to something that gets my heart beating and I feel that the story is ready to be written, or as Anthony described, I feel that I am in the zone.

I've learned that it is very important to take the story in the right direction. So, for a novel, I don't want to get on the computer and write an uninspired chapter. It could take the story in the wrong direction and then I could write more and more chapters that are built on an instable foundation.

Perhaps, I would approach things differently for a short story. It seems that because a short is one unit it can be reworked without creating the domino effect of chapter disaster that I was identifying in novel writing.

What do you think?

Is planning or pre-writing a good alternative to writing?

Do word count goals get in the way of counting pre-writing as writing? I'm of the mind set that putting a given amount of time into the process of writing is more important than counting pages. In running terms, this comes down to recording or counting the minutes run instead of the miles run.

I've got one other question on my mind, which is totally random. The worst thing that a creative writing teacher ever wrote (and this was during my first year of college) was that I should not turn in any more work until I could write grammatically correct sentences. In other words, drop my class. Well, I did not drop the class, and managed to earn a "C". What's the worst, or most uninspiring, thing someone has told you?


  1. I really like this post, Dave. As writers, we all suffer down times and it's good to hear what you do to keep motivated and find a little hope.
    I think you are right, too, about word goals. They can be helpful if you are on track and just pushing past procrastination but they can be dangerous if you get sidetracked. (Okay, enough of that analogy!)
    I had a college professor who gave me a bad grade on a test about the meaning of a poem. I've always wondered how someone can say they know the meaning of another's poem and that a different interpretaion is wrong? Not that I was any expert at the time, I just questioned the process of critical interpretation of artworks. It seems it should be openended, not set in stone.

  2. When I'm really struggling with my writing, inspiration hiding everywhere around me, but I can't find Her (sorry, I consider Inspiration a 'her' for some reason) anywhere, well, I turn on some music and write something to each song that plays. This method normally unblocks the block and I'm able to get back on track. There's something therapeutic and inspiring about writing whatever comes to mind about the songs I am listening to.

    As a side note, I once wrote a short story based on a CD, i.e., the first song gave me a general clue what to write about, and I just followed that path throughout the entirety of the CD.

    My philosophy on writing essays et al, is that they don't have to be boring/formal affairs every single time. So, the worst thing a professor every said to me is that 'this paper isn't formal enough'! BAH! If essays and some literature were a little less formal, people might actually want to read them. : )


  3. Sometimes the best thing is to do the simple thing. This is why word counts work with so many writers, both published and unpublished. It’s a simple way of obtaining a finished manuscript.
    It works for most because it is writing and the creative thought process that lends words to paper flows from starter words themselves.

    Let's say a new writer is having trouble finishing the first novel. So, in the course of pushing through, he adopts a 300-word a day minimum.

    Someday, surprisingly soon, he will be done with that book.

    Now, that book maybe crap. But I can guarantee in almost all cases, the book is not crap because he spent some days writing that felt like pushing a wheelbarrow of wet sand uphill. It’s crap because of other reasons, but at least it is finished crap.

    I call this “Embrace the Suck.” There is absolutely no way the writer in question can recognize deficiencies in his novel writing unless he has a finished manuscript. Without the manuscript, he has no readers. Without readers looking at his book from end-to-end, he will not be able to find problems and fix it.

    I personally know of writers when, upon hitting a difficult spot, turn to writing in other places such as the outline, a different work in progress, character descriptions or even a different part of the book. I have tried all those things myself. The only way it could be detrimental is if the novel never gets finished. And these writers never stop writing.

    So it comes down to a binary decision: Does their process kick-start the creativity, eventually lead to a finished novel?

    If the answer is yes, there ya go.

    If the answer is no, well, then, that process is a bad process and should be jettisoned immediately.

    Thus, sometimes, the idea is to recognize the sadness, to live in the dim, and to wallow in shadow. Embrace it and make it your own.

    Embrace the suck!

  4. I had a beta reader tell me "not to give up my day job", which I haven't of course, but it didn't help with the story at all.

    I haven't received that much feedback that told me something wrong, or not useful. It's probably because I ignore it.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about not writing an uninspired chapter, because it can take the story in the wrong direction.
    I learned that the hard way with the current WIP.
    So yes, like you, I brainstorm when there's no drive to write, because it usually means I've gotten lost along the way.


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