Exorcising Writing How-to Advice
Last week, I wrote about leaving the writing message boards because my writing was getting polluted by a lot of the nonsense advice being passed around. But I’d also started pulling back from general writing advice from how-to books even before that (some writers were absolutely horrified at this. Writing advice is a huge safety net). I was finding that the advice assumed all writers outline and didn’t provide anything really for someone who might not be doing that.
One of the core problems for me is that a lot of the how-to advice is common sense and seems perfectly reasonable.
Until I apply it to when I’m writing, and it turns the story into a freaking mess. I could not tell this until I tossed out all the outlining-flavored advice, and once I did, the story simply worked. Writing the story also went back to being a lot of fun. Using outlining flavored techniques really sucked a lot of the fun out.
But it’s a constant battle, because I’ve been hearing that advice for decades. It’s like it’s imprinted on me as a default.
I’m currently at the one-third point in my current book. It’s a place where I always have trouble in every single book. The story was going great, and then suddenly it’s ‘what do I do?’
LEFT BRAIN: Ack! Ack! Story is broken! Story is broken! Go find the problem and fix it!
I wound up stuck at that point, mainly because I’ve been at war with the Left Brain. It figures all that writing advice out there is useful and maybe a turning point would help resolve the sticking point.
No, no, and no.
Because that wrests takes all the creativity away from my Right Brain that’s actually trying to do the writing. What’s happened in the past is that when I let the Left Brain dictate what happens next — story beats were one of those things that seemed really reasonable but were horrifyingly bad — I ended up trying to make the story fit what I’d come up with. The story, in turn, became very convoluted and twisted because the creative process of discovery as I wrote was not allowed in. It distorted the story so badly, in fact, that this is a complete redraft from scratch, and I have not used anything from the original version.
I end up feeling like I have to keep giving Left Brain an NCIS head slap to stay out of the story’s business.
The hardest thing right now is that I am literally doing a scene that I do not have any idea what is going to happen in it. How-to advice and writing rules all say that’s a bad idea, and it’s what I have to do.
It’s trust the process.