Just Write

"Good," "great," and "stinky" writing are all relative, and are primarily a function of practice. Just being capable of putting words together in an order that other English-speaking people are able to understand, with relatively few typos or misspellings would put someone ahead of many people with whom I work on a daily basis, even if they didn't consider it a God-given skill. This ability can be honed, just like any other ability, only through practice.

I threw javelin in high school and college. God graced me with a strong arm, so for the first year or so I got by on muscles alone. I ran down the runway, did a few cross steps, and then basically stopped and heaved as hard as I could on that little spear. I topped out, though, at about 150 feet, which was as far as my raw strength could take me. To go any further than that, I had to find a way to convert the momentum of the run into the kinetic energy that would propel the javelin further than my arm could alone. That took practice, lots of it. I had to train my muscles to work in concert, but I also had to create new neural pathways in my brain to control the millions of actions that had to take place to transfer energy from my planted left foot all the way to my arm without interruption. The only way to do that was through massive repetition.

Writing works the same way. When you start trying to tell a story, your brain contains the images you want to convey, but your fingers don't yet have the skill to convey them perfectly. More importantly, the neural pathways between your visual imaging centers and your language centers haven't formed yet. That, too, takes brutal repetition.

I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time this year, and while I discovered that speed-writing doesn't exactly fit my lifestyle, I read some things that got me excited about their damn-the-torpedoes approach to creativity:


If I'm just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not
just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly
a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth:
99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a
novel. It's just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down
to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put
away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five
chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will
come. And you'll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing,
shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations,
everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating
your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And
you'll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a
ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never
expected, taking the story places you'd never imagined. There will be much
execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of
it.

3) Art for art's sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It
makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants.
Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the
chores and "must-dos" of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both
exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more
spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

(from their FAQ)

It's too late for anyone else to participate in the official NaNoWriMo for this year, but it's not too late to take these ideas to heart:

  1. Just write.
  2. Shut up. Just write.
  3. Don't reread, don't edit. Just write.
  4. Give yourself permission to stink, at least on the first pass. You can clean it up later when you edit the complete work.
You will start awkwardly, but your writing muscles will loosen and strengthen as you go on. Don't let the initial cramps keep you from getting any further, and don't try to be a great writer! Settle for "legible," then move on to "readable," and accelerate from there. Even if your first few chapters stink, it will get better as you go on. Plus, you can always come back to them later and apply your bulging writing muscles to rewriting them in painfully beautiful prose.

Just Write.

- WS
Who is now on chapter 8 of his first novel and getting better all the time.
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