Mostly what it comes down to with writing is taking your idea and making it as clear as you possibly can.
I don’t know how you get ideas, so I will share my process with you.
It can be a little inconsistent, but for majority of my writing processes they begin with an idea, a seed. Sometimes that idea is an image, or just a sentence that sounds cool, or even something I want to talk about at length.
Then I find a tone that will fit it, usually 99% of the time, the tone comes along with the seed. They go hand-in-hand.
For example, if I’m thinking about how much of a shitty day I’m having and I decide I’m going to write about that, the tone is by default going to be angry or sad or whatever awful feeling that goes with having a shitty day.
I never try to force a tone. Whenever I do it comes out academic, even if I’m trying to do something deliberately sloppy. It has a really try hard feeling to it and it looks contrived and fake.
I try to stick with whatever I’m writing as a project.
Literally like trying to make a seed grow.
I go and go and go until it’s finished, or, it dies. This is natural. Sometimes you just get all you can get out of a story before it’s over and that hurts like hell every single fucking time ‘cuz you have to give up the project. You feel like a failure. Every time.
So, again, with the beginning I start with my idea. I start with the concept and the tone.
From here I decide where to start actually writing it out.
Sowing the seed
A lot of my seeds start with either a scene, or a concept.
A scene that stands out more so than the rest of the story. Sometimes it’s at the end of the story, or the middle. Sometimes if I’m lucky it’s the beginning.
It’s inconsistent. But what’s not consistent is that I’m writing at the same damn time every single day. Set your space and time.
For starting with a scene, something like, for example, what if someone called their lover while peaking on mushrooms? I write it out and then save it in a new file and tuck it away and never look at it.
Then, I go and start working on the rest of the story and when I get to that point, that scene, I pull it up and look at it and see if
1. I like it.
2. It fits with the rest of the story I wrote.
If it meets these two rules, I throw it in.
Everything is honky dory.
Just one thing…
This never happens. It’s only happened effectively twice for about 100 different stories.
Now, if it’s not a scene, it’s a concept, a loose idea that provides a spark. Like, if God were bored and he wanted to entertain himself, what would he do?
It’s similar to a writing prompt, but, not, cuz it’s for me and only me. It fits differently.
As I work with it, every day is a new day. I finish what I write for the day and I mostly put it out of my head. Sometimes I can’t help but think about it all day, but I refuse to go back and write more. I have to do it on a new day.
And with every new day I force myself to believe that I have no idea what will happen within the story.
I have to do this.
Sometimes I don’t believe myself and I fucking pay for it.
Shit comes out terribly on those days. It literally feels like trying to recreate a moment or a memory. Like you’ve been thinking about how perfect this is will be when you write it down and then you try to make it work, but it won’t.
Keep yourself guessing
So, to avoid this, I approach whatever I’m writing with a sense of surprise.
I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I have a general idea, but for the most part it’s out in the open and if I run into what I think is going to happen, cool. If not, cool.
I think of it as opening the text document every morning and looking at what your wrote before as a long writing prompt and you’re here to keep it going…and that is more or less what you’re doing.
I do this until the end. And you know when you’re done. It’s intuitive. It’s different for everyone. But you get to a point and you just look at it and you’re like, “Yup. That’s it.”
I can’t elaborate on that any more, but I mean, every project you have you know it’s going to end and you have a fairly good idea on how you want it to end as you’re getting there. At the very least you have a feeling of how it’ll end. Fiction or non-fiction.
Give it feeling
What you put in, is what the reader gets out.
This is true in fiction and non-fiction. And that’s why most books suck.
Think of it this way:
When you’re writing, you’re essentially talking.
When someone is telling a story, whether it be funny, or sad, they’re usually feeling the tone of what they’re telling you.
It’s why a guy talking about his daughter dying in a car crash breaks down sobbing when he’s telling the story. It’s tragic. It’s terrible. And he’s sharing that story with you and everyone around him is breaking down too. They’re experiencing empathy from real emotion. This is what good writing is.
If he stood there and told everyone that his daughter died in a car wreck and shed no tears and showed no emotion it would be…awkward. Stupid. This is what bad writing is.
And it looks the same in both fiction and non-fiction.
Non-fiction that is poorly written, no matter how fucking dry the material is, is poorly written not because it’s too dry and technical– for even someone familiar with the content and jargon can find enjoyment in it– no, it’s bad because there’s so soul or spirit in it. It’s got no heart.
This is the same for fiction!
They wrote it because they had to.
And when you’re writing because you have to you are essentially listening to yourself talk and that is the worst type of writing. It invites low-ball sentimentalism, boredom, and predictability.
You can tell when a writer is in love with what they’re writing. Even when you don’t like the style and content, you can agree that the writer actually gave a fuck and tried to connect with you.
Most writers miss this point and write because they have to. They force themselves and I don’t understand it, because writing is not easy. At all. And if I didn’t adore the craft and love it enough to wake up at 4 a.m. to find time to write, I wouldn’t do it if you paid me.
Take a break between projects
After I finish?
I save it and I work on something else for a while. Start a new, smaller, project. Write a few poems, short stories, whatever.
For editing, depending on how long the project took me, I wait about half its time.
Edit like a mad man
So, let’s say I worked on a story for three months, I’m going to wait a month and a half before I look at it.
After that month and a half, I’m going to pull it up, and print it out. Then I start editing.
I sit there with a pen and the written project printed out. In place of the time I would write, I edit.
Editing is my favorite part. You’re looking at what you just did in a loosely complete format. You get to pick and choose what stays and what goes. You get to micromanage. You get to add, take away. Full control. It’s a relieving feeling and I honestly live for it.
Editing is where what you wrote takes shape.
Probably the biggest helper though is double spacing what you write and using a big font face so you can read clearly. I use Times New Roman at size 14. It’s easy as shit to read and your pen has no problem weaving through and fixing things.
The big 2 rules
Now, if I had to condense all my advice into two tidbits it would be this:
- Write everyday.
- Read the writers you want to write like.
Write everyday is self explanatory. Set aside time. If you honestly can’t, then write on the toilet. I’m serious. Any time is time to write.
The second rule:
Most would say ‘read the best stuff’ but what the fuck does that mean?
There are 7 billion individuals on this planet with so many different nuanced opinions that trying to find the universal best is a stupid fucking endeavor and not worth your time.
No. Read the style of writers that you would want to imitate and start practicing.
My go toos are obvious: Cormac McCarthy, Murakami, DeliciousTacos, and Bukowski.
I read them and I imitate. In my opinion imitating is fine if you’re doing it honestly.
You aren’t copying.
Copying is sitting there with their book in hand and trying to figure out if they’ve said what you’re trying to say and just writing that down.
You’re actually taking what they did and trying to implement it into your voice. Your style.
Think of it like athletes watching other athletes perform. They see what they do and take notes. They like that LeBron James did this with the ball, or Kobe does this thing, and they try to incorporate that into their arsenal.
This is how you need to think. You’re a writer with weapons and skills of the trade. You know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You need to know what to employ when you need to.
Copying is stupid and a symptom of someone who is insecure and has nothing to say. This is where clichés pop up. “Once upon a time,” etc.
Imitating is survival. Every writer shamelessly imitates another.
I don’t know why our generation wants everything to be original. Originality is dead. It never existed.
We are humans. We take what past humans have done and do it in our own way (which I guess is originality, shut the fuck up).
Look at Faulkner to McCarthy. They’re pretty damn similar in a lot of ways. Why? Because McCarthy fucking loves Faulkner. Sure, they had the same editor and that damn well did play into it, but I guarantee that editor wouldn’t have bothered with McCarthy if he didn’t imitate Faulkner so well.
Murakami? He imitated Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler. Two writers based in America while Murakami lived in Japan. He fucking imitated them in a different language. To startling effect. He imitated Kafka damn well, too. And this wasn’t copying! This implementing style and themes in a way that was new and innovative. Look at The Castle and compare that to Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Both have a theme of a nameless wonderer entering a strange town. That’s where the comparisons end.
Imitation is not wrong.
DeliciousTacos is a literal reincarnation of Bukowski’s voice and observations in the modern era. Just with a different attitude: he hates himself. He’s different than Bukowski* in that one aspect and that makes all the god damned difference, I promise.
I’m harping on this point more than the others because people have it in their head that they need to be obsessively original. They want to do what no one has done. But it is almost impossible to do this deliberately– and when things like that in art happen it’s always on accident and usually hated.
And on top of this, if you have your own voice, it is going to be original no matter how god damn much you imitate. Everyone has their own signature brand when it comes to writing. No two writers sound completely the same when they’re speaking from the heart and their plots and all that shit will be completely different too.
I swear by this.
Think of the two movies Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and High Fidelity. What are their plots? Two people break up. We know from the fucking beginning what is going to happen. These two shit heads are going to get back together. But both of these movies are welcomed to extremely high critical acclaim, despite being cliché and predictable. Why are they so well received? Because the journey of the story is so engrossing you flat out don’t give a fuck you know what’s going to happen. You’re enjoying it so much it doesn’t matter.
Writing is no different.
Fuck originality. Fuck cliché. Fuck being different.
- Speak honestly. Don’t use big words unless they come naturally. This is huge and well…obvious.
- If you aren’t feeling what you’re writing, stop. Wait until you feel it, or just never come back to it. Forceful art is terrible art. Don’t use this as an excuse to avoid writing, though.
- It’s not easy. Writing is never easy. I write every day and it’s like climbing a new damn mountain every single day. I do it because I enjoy it, though. That’s really what it comes down to. It makes me feel fulfilled and satisfied to crank out some good shit. I feel on fire all damn day when I have a good morning session. But it’s hard to do. It’s work. It’s always work. Writers block is a real thing that you have to pound through, word by word, sometimes as slow as fucking possible. But you have to get through it.
- Probably a big thing that people get worked up over is the beginning of writing. That first sentence man it’s so hard man oh man. The ‘blank page is the scariest and most daunting thing a writer can face’ haha whatever. The beginning is easy. You know why? I’ll give you a big fucking secret:
Who is gonna read the first draft?
Only you. Just vomit it out. Ain’t worth the energy, man (or woman).
Your first draft is going to suck anyway.
Why try and pull out the big show stoppers in the first sentence? This will paralyze you. Just bust it out and move on and edit it later.
Keep that attitude in reins. With the exception of the beginning, you should be shooting for aces the first time every single sentence. It improves editing. Letting you use less energy. It’s easier to clean an already clean house. Starting from shit covered floors and walls is exhausting. Keep your shit as clean as you can.
This may slow things up, but it’s worth it, honestly. The pristine mind you have when editing will thank you for not letting shit get on it.
Writing is sacred.
I don’t listen to music or have anything going on except my coffee pot when I’m writing.
You need focus. You need a lot of focus. The human mind is easy to distract. AND easy to exhaust. You need breaks, son. I usually go 15 – 30 minutes straight, take a 5 – 10 minute break and fart around on the internet, then get right back into it. Some writers take walks, others do push ups, others smoke cigs, then get right back on it.
The more you write, the more you’ll also find that writing sober is a blessing. Trying to write intoxicated is damn hard. Alcoholics like Hemmingway, Faulkner, Joyce, all had to be sober when writing. It’s no joke. Drinking helps ideas, don’t get me wrong. But really, when you’re sitting there doing it, nothing beats a sharp mind.
And that’s all
More to come.
Did you learn anything?
Leave a comment or share.
*If your really curious Bukowski was heavily influenced by John Fante. I have no idea who Fante was influenced by. He’s pretty singular in his time, hence his lack of fame.