Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Write Junk - Yes, Junk


I'm going to go really against my own grain today.  I'm someone who has no true first draft, who revises as he goes, who is happy to toss out 80 pages of junk at a time for a rewrite.  I don't do the whole, "Just get something down," approach.  I'm not even sure how to do that, honestly.  It seems like cooking a meal and saying, "Okay, just grab stuff, mix together and see what happens; it doesn't matter if it's good or not."


So that's the reality in which I operate.

But it's not the reality I'm going to encourage today.

Here's why:

There are a lot of people out there, friends, colleagues, and strangers, who consider themselves developing writers.  I love them!  So many of them have things to say that are interesting and brilliant.  It kind of gives me goosebumps sometimes to think of all the stories that are out there that have never yet been told.

So many developing writers, though, are focused on learning to write.

That seems to make sense, right?  If you're still working out how to write, you should learn how to do it.  You should read, research, and figure out the rules of the game.  So developing writers spend hours sometimes absorbing writing advice and reading writing tips and participating in learning experiences.  It just makes sense.

They're writing too, most of them, and they try to apply what they're learning to what they're writing.

It seems logical.

What's I'm about to say is so painfully trite that it hurts my teeth, but I'm going to say it anyway:

It is infinitely less important to learn how to write than it is to write.

I've had classes, workshops, and one-on-one sessions.  I've been in crit groups.  I've read books and blogs and articles and tip sheets and posters with chimpanzees on them.  They've all contributed something to my development as a writer.

But not as much as writing.

Just writing.

Last night, I was having a conversation with a fellow writer, talking about a particular aspect of her current WIP.  We were talking about fantasy world building, and I wanted to send her samples of the kind of world building I was talking about.  So I, of course, recommended Tim Stretton's The Dog of the North and then e-mailed her a couple quick paragraphs that showed how Tim gets the reader to understand geography, politics, and culture simply and with investment.

But I also went through my own back pile to find her some pieces.

As I was combing through the files, it really hit me last night: Dang; I've written a whole heck of lot.  I mean, seriously.  I have  three or four novel WIP's, at least three completed novels, and dozens and dozens and dozens of completed short stories, ranging from 3 to 60 pages and covering virtually every genre there is.

So many of my friends who are developing writers have snippets that they do for flash prompts or blog fests, and maybe a dozen stories, and a couple short NaNo novels.  That's great!

As I think about my own experience, though, I realize that where I've really learned writing has been by writing.  Lots.  Of all kinds of things.  At length and in brief.  Not sure how many flash prompts I've written for, because it's over a hundred easily.  Then the stories.  The novels.  Poetry.  Songs.  Screenplays.  Just writing.

It's amazing what you learn by doing.  It's like -- I assume -- the difference between taking a golfing lesson and then being out on the links and realizing after 30th round, "Oh goodness, that's  why I keep overshooting the green when I'm pitching from a sand trap, because I'm doing this."

Learning is great.  All those blogs and crit groups and books can be helpful.  But nothing is as helpful as just writing.  Lots.

So here's my recommendation: write a bunch of stuff.  Don't worry about comparing it rules.  Don't worry about getting feedback.  Write a bunch of stuff.  Once you've written a bunch of stuff, then take the things you learn from agents and writers and readers and teachers and go back to what you've written and make it better.  But first, write.  Lots.



  1. You wouldn't learn to drive a car without getting behind the wheel; equally, learning to write without actually writing is never going to do the trick.

    I think the optimum balance is writing followed by a period of reflection, then more writing and reflection. The writing alone isn't enough if you don't take the time to learn from it. Sometimes that reflection can be unconscious, though.

    "couple quick paragraphs that showed how Tim gets the reader to understand geography, politics, and culture simply and with investment" - hey, that sounds good! Which bit was that?

  2. @Tim - That's actually a great point. I think what sometimes discourages me on fellow writers' behalf is when I see them behind the wheel of the car, reading the manual while they practice driving. But you're definitely right: once you've written, you do need to reflect and think.

    It was a hard choice, actually, because there are several passages that I think are brilliant, but I snagged a very early paragraph wherein you describe the lay of the land from one of the Lady's POV's in terms of the geography diminishing her fear of the bandits. And then one of my favorite lines in the book, where Arren comments on the lack of ancestral pictures in Thaume's chambers. And then a bit of Thaume's travels and reflection on the dying of a king.

  3. This is so unbelievably true. I wrote seriously for five years before getting anywhere near a writing class, and being in that class after having all of that writing experience was golden.

  4. @Elena - Yeah, I think back to a writing class I too in college, and I got so much more out of it than the kids who had barely written anything. They spend a lot of time spinning their wheels trying to produce and correct simultaneously. Those of us with much more existing material had a lot of, "Oh my goodness, I get that!" moments.

  5. I get both arguments because I wouldn't learn to drive w/o driving, but I wish I'd taken drivers ed before my crazy mother took me out on the farm and made me scared to drive forever with her imaginary brake.

    I think it can also be a procrastination crutch for people to say, I shouldn't be writing that much yet... I'm still learning.

  6. Agreed - but I do think feedback is (eventually) important (preferably disinterested; friends and family tend to be too nice, or just very economical with the truth). And of course reading. Read and read and read, but never try to imitate.

    Nevets - your list of works is truly impressive! What have you done with it/them all?

  7. @Chris - I see what you're saying, but fortunately writing offers little chance to become injured or to injure others. :) But, glibness aside, I do see that point. I think for many people, though, your second point is where it ends up. I know there are other things in life that I do this with, such as playing guitar.

    @Frances - Reading is definitely important. I tend to assume that most people come to writing from or through reading, but that is probably not always the case. And there is definitely a point at which feedback becomes important.

    As for my work, the sad truth is that most of them are sitting as computer files. The completed novels may never see the light of day. The short stories I am slowly working on bringing in line with my current style and voice (roughly) and will make myself submit them, or possibly self-pub an anthology of the shorts or something.

    My biggest downfall as a writer has been my lack of follow-through. As soon as I finish a story, I traditionally already have another idea and so I jump right into it, and the other languishes.

    I think I've gotten better about that, and I have three or four stories that I'm sort of submitting these days, but I'm trying to focus on my book. Once I get that out for queries, I hope to make myself an aggressive schedule to get those stories out there.

  8. I tend to work this way. I write get my story out usually (specially short stories or poetry) then I go back and revise it. I agree completely its the writing that helps you learn just as much as anything else. Great post C.N.

  9. I usually just write at first, then work to make it better later.

  10. As the man said (Stephen King) - read a lot: write a lot.

    Good post, Nevets. We all have to learn how our own way - whether we edit as we go - but whatever we do, we have to write.

  11. @Summer - Writing, as they say, is a verb.

    @G'Eagle - There you go! Everyone needs to figure out their best approach, as long it includes the actual writing part. :)

    @Michael - Good advice from King. I wonder what Harlan Ellison would have to say on this matter?

  12. I love this post! But there is a serious lack of dead horses here.

  13. See, I do hear both sides of this discussion. And the thing is, like most writers, I am constantly learning more things about craft, but when I sit down, I just write. I have to.

    I'm sure by osmosis or assimilation (or someone in my writing group just hammering the point home) I do take a lot of the process to heart. As I've discovered, my characters tell the story - and frequently they surprise me. I just get it down for them on paper (or screen,)

    But (as you can tell) my prose is wordy, so I write flash fiction and short (usually humorous) poetic form as a way of getting in the discipline. Does that make any sense?

  14. @Michelle - Yeah, tomorrow's the next author spotlight feature, but my next regular post will contain an ample supply of dead horses.

    @RJ - You're very good at characterization and you have such an energetic wit. I'm sure your longer prose is very good, even if you find it wordy. But, you're right, you do still have to learn and absorb. All that learning and absorbing, though, isn't helpful if yo'd get around to the writing.

    I've been glad to see your poetry posts lately! One of the great things about finishing Sublimation is that I'll have time to get back over to Flashy Fiction. :)

  15. Great post, Nevets! This is great advice. Actually writing is the only way to learn to write.

  16. I agree. And for myself, I learned the hard way, it is more important to *finish* a project, write it all the way to the end, than to go back and keep re-writing the beginning. Because learning to write something from beginning to end is a project in its own right, and something you can only learn by doing.

  17. @Aimee - Thanks! It's an easy truth, but the easier the truth sometimes the more we don't want to own it. :)

    @Tara - So true! Finishing a project is definitely its own skill, and it's not one that can be taught or picked up. It's a matter of energy, disciplines, sustainability and other things that are essentially internal.

  18. I'm always learning new things about writing, but I do write. One day I seriously looked at all the projects I had in works, and was surprised at how many I've started. I get ideas, write on it for a while, sometimes come back to them.

    I use prompts and blogfests to kick start an idea sometimes. I have several that are way over the word count for a blogfest, but with some revision would make a complete short story submission.

    Practice certainly makes the best teacher.


  19. Totally excellent advice. The best way I learned to write is to just write. A lot. The feedback (workshops, crit groups) came much later, but I was amazed at how much I improved by myself just by writing a lot.

  20. Very true. Every version of every novel I've ever written has taught me something.

    More than anyone telling me anything about how to write.


  21. @Donna - Prompts and contests can definitely be good fuel for the writing fires!

    @Jennifer - This is probably a risky thing to say, but honestly, I think if you're a gifted writer and are a writer, you can figure out a lot on your own because when you read what you've just written you have a lot to compare it to and, even if you can't put words to it, you know something needs to be done about it.

    @Misha - Sometimes the hard part is just knowing which of those novels to write, eh? :)


Label Cloud

#DarkAndTwisted (5) a razor wrapped in silk (2) about me (5) absolute (1) acceptance (1) accountability (1) advice (54) aesop (2) agents (2) agony (1) aikido (6) alaska (2) alcohol (1) alex mackenzie (1) aliya whiteley (1) allegory (1) allergies (1) alone (1) amaretto (1) ambulance (17) anchors (1) andy dick (1) angel lost (1) anthology (4) anthony pacheco (1) anthropology (4) applesauce (1) approach (1) appropriateness (1) arashi (1) archaeology (1) archaeololgy (3) argyle (1) art (1) audio (3) author (11) award (1) background (1) bacon (2) bar (1) battlestar galactica (1) bbs (1) beauty (1) ben folds (1) bhangra (1) bioarchaeology (1) biography (2) birthday (1) blog tour (1) blogfest (9) blogging (5) blogosphere (2) blogsclusive (14) blurb (1) bones (2) book (4) boring (1) born to fly (1) boss (1) boundaries (1) braai (1) bravery (2) bridge flag (1) brutal (1) business (3) c + c music factory (1) c n nevets (108) c s lewis (1) cabin (1) cafepress (6) cantaloupe (1) career (2) cat (1) challenge (2) character (11) cheesy (1) cherry republic (1) christmas (4) chuck palahniuk (2) chumbawumba (1) cinderella (2) cinders (4) clarissa draper (2) classification (3) clive cussler (1) commentary (4) community (1) compelling (1) complete (1) confidence (4) conflict (1) conformity (1) confusion (1) congress (1) conspiracy (1) contest (31) conversation (1) cooking (1) cottage (1) courage (5) craft (4) creation (2) creep (2) crime (1) crime writing (36) criminal (2) criticism (2) critiques (2) crow (1) culture (2) cussler (1) cutting (1) dark (11) davin malasarn (3) death (1) deb markanton (4) deborah swift (1) deduction (1) definition (2) description (2) destruction (1) development (3) dialectic (1) dialogue (1) direction (1) discussion (2) dog of the north (2) domey malasarn (5) dr. who (1) drama (3) dramatic (1) dream (1) drugs (1) edit (2) editors (4) emotion (1) ems (8) emt (3) endings (1) ennui and malaise (4) entry (1) epiphany (1) escher (2) essay (2) ethics (3) everyday (1) evil (3) excerpt (3) exercise (1) existentialish (4) existianlism (2) experience (3) experimental (1) fables (1) facebook (3) failure (1) fairy tale (2) fallibility (1) fantasia (1) fantasy (2) fear (5) feedback (3) fiction (26) fit (1) flas (1) flash (22) flash fiction (8) flight (1) flying knee (1) food (2) forensic anthropology (3) forensics (5) frances garrood (2) frustration (1) fun (2) fwiww (1) game (1) gary corby (3) gawain (1) genre (29) germ (1) ghost (3) gideon (1) gift (4) give away (2) golden eagle (1) government (1) growing up (1) grumbling (3) gsa (1) guest post (13) hair metal (1) harry potter (1) health (4) heavy metal (1) hegel (6) help (3) historical fiction (3) history (3) holiday (1) home (3) hopeless (2) horror (3) hot dish (1) houseboat (2) humans (1) humor (1) idea (2) imagination (2) impressionism (1) indiana jones (2) induction (1) influences (1) information (5) insight (1) inspiration (2) intentionality (1) international (2) internet radio (1) interview (2) introduction (2) investigation (1) iticism (1) jabberwocky (1) jack higgins (2) japan (4) jc martin (1) jeffrey deaver (1) jennifer hillier (7) jon jones (1) journal (1) jpop (2) jurisdiction (1) jurisprudence (5) justice (1) justification (1) kanjani8 (1) kansai oniisan (5) kathy reichs (1) knowing (2) koontz (1) kung fu (1) law (5) learning (1) legacy (1) lies (2) life (8) light (1) limits (1) linear (2) lines (2) lite (1) literary (3) literary fiction (10) literary lab (4) literature (3) loren eaton (3) louis lamour (1) love (1) lt host (1) ludlum (1) lydia kang (1) lyrics (1) mandarin chinese (3) marilyn meredith (3) marketing (5) marriage (1) martial arts (3) marxism (1) mascota (1) meaning (1) melons (1) memories (2) mentoring (1) mercury rising (1) meta (1) michael crichton (1) michael malone (1) michelle davidson argyle (9) minnows (1) misha (1) mma (2) monday moment (1) monty python (1) mood (1) moplo (1) morality (4) motion (1) motivation (2) motive for murder (1) mr. saggy (1) mug (1) murder (5) muse (1) music (2) mutilation (1) myster (1) mystery (5) mystery men (1) narrative (1) neanderthal (1) neo-orthodox (1) nevetsize (15) nevetsosophy (1) news (38) nick diaz (1) non-linear (1) nonsense (1) northern michigan (1) nostalgia (3) not subtle (1) notes from underground (3) nothing changes (1) nothing happens (1) novel (9) novella (1) obfuscation (1) obsession (1) octopus (1) oetzi (1) on call (1) one point (2) oops (1) opinion (1) original (2) osaka (2) outline (3) p g wodehouse (1) pain (1) pancakes (1) paradox (3) paranormal (1) passion (1) perceval (1) persistence (1) person (1) personal (66) phil loring (1) philosophy (9) piano (1) pictures (1) pie (1) pink floyd (3) place (1) plot (5) plug (1) podcast (3) poetry (1) police (3) politics (2) poll (1) pomo (1) post modern (1) potential (1) pouland ann dvorjak (1) pov (6) power (1) practice (2) pre-writing (3) precision (1) pretty (1) priorities (2) prize (13) process (8) production (1) progress (3) projects (3) promotion (9) prompt (2) pscyhology (7) psychological suspense (27) public defender (1) publication (24) puffin (1) pun (1) querying (2) question (8) r n morris (5) rachel in the oc (1) rachel thompson (1) radio (1) rambling (2) random (3) rant (2) reader (4) readi (1) reading (10) real stakes (10) realism (2) reasoning (1) recommendations (1) redemption (1) rejection (6) relationship (1) release (2) religion (1) request (3) research (1) response (1) results (1) review (6) revision (2) riddles (1) rights (1) rj clarken (1) rj ellory (5) romance (3) rose (4) rules (2) russia (1) rusty nail (1) ryan david jahn (6) ryne douglas pearson (2) sample (2) scifi (1) scotch (1) scotland (1) scott bailey (1) scottish (1) second person (1) selfhelp (4) serial killer (1) serial murderers (1) setting (1) seuss (1) shirt (2) short (1) short story (28) shush (1) sisko (1) skills (1) skulls (1) sleepy (1) slice of life (1) smoke (1) smugness (1) smurfs (1) social (3) solitude (11) solomon matthews (1) soundtrack (1) specialization (1) speculative fiction (1) spiral (3) spirit (1) sports (1) star trek (3) stephen king (1) steven seagal (1) store (1) stories for sendai (9) story (42) strengths (1) structure (6) struggle (29) stuff (2) style (27) sublimation (19) submission (11) suffering (1) suicide (2) summer ross (2) surrealism (1) suspense (6) sweet (1) sword stained with royal blood (2) synonyms (1) system (1) tactless tuesday (10) taekwondo (1) takoyaki (1) taphonomy (1) tara maya (2) taste (1) tater tots (1) tea time with serial killers (2) teaser (3) technique (7) ted kennedy (1) teddy bear (1) teen (2) teilhard (1) telling (2) terminal instar (5) tesol (1) the dirty dozen (1) the girl with the dragon tattoo (1) the life of brian (1) the muppet show (1) the wild grass (1) theme (3) theory (1) therapy (2) thinking (2) threat (1) thriller (5) tim stretton (4) timeline (1) tips (20) tone (3) top gun (1) top ten (1) topic (1) trailer (6) transformation (1) translation (1) travel (1) tribute (1) trivia (1) trolls (1) twisted (3) twitter (5) ufc (1) update (26) uzziel (1) vacation (1) veggie tales (1) video (1) violence (2) vogon (1) voice (11) volunteer (1) vomit (1) vonda mcintyre (1) walgreens (2) website (2) western (2) whatif (1) whining (2) william faulkner (1) winner (2) wip (6) wisdom (3) word choice (2) writing (174) wu xia (1) ya (1) yamashita tomohisa (1) yin and yang (1) yuan chengzhi (1) zhao peng (1) zoe winters (1) zora neal hurston (1)