September 11, 2018
Words from Shane Black
November 6, 2017 / 1 Comment
Hey, y’know what I realized over the weekend? It’s NaNoWriMo! Who’s trying it this year?
I’ll be honest. I’ve never tried it myself. By the time I first heard of it, as it was just starting to gain popularity, I’d already been writing professionally for a year or two. Might’ve even already been writing full time (non-fiction, but still). For the past eleven years… well, every month’s been about word count for me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have some ideas and thoughts on NaNoWriMo. In fact, a lot. At this early point in the month, I have one very firm reassurance, and one solid tip.
First piece of reassurance. No matter who you are, I can tell you with absolute certainty, you are not going to sell the manuscript you write this month. No agent will consider it. No editor will look at it. It’s just not going to happen.
HANG ON! This isn’t a kick-in-the-gut thing. This is liberating. It’s freeing.
I’m not saying nobody will ever buy this book. But what we’re doing during this month is a first draft. A rushed first draft at that. It’s going to have plot holes and factual errors and typos. It will, trust me. It’s a fantastic starting point, but it’s going to need more work after November 30th. No question about it.
Again, this is a good thing. Stop worrying about if an agent or editor or your significant other is going to like this. They’re never going to see it. This draft is for you and you alone. Be selfish. Go crazy. This is the “dance like nobody’s watching” part of the process. Let your creativity run wild, eat nothing but chips, drink nothing but whiskey, run naked in the coffeeshop, and don’t worry about anyone else and what they may think. They can see the second or third draft, maybe, but not this one. Do what you want to do with it. Do anything. Because this is just the first draft.
Okay, don’t actually run naked in the coffeeshop. Yeah, I know they smile at you a lot there, but they’re paid to be nice to you. They don’t want to see that. Especially not in a place that sells food.
Second thing—the solid tip.
That’s it. Just write.
I know that sounds kind of flip and arrogant, but stop and think for a moment. Like we just said, this draft isn’t for anyone else. We’re not going to worry about spelling, research, current hot genres, book advances, any of that. All that matters for this month is getting words on the page.
Sooooo… get the words on the page.
In my first drafts, I change character names halfway through. I snip off plot threads and remind myself to pull them out later. I snip off some characters halfway through, and then jump to the alternate timeline version of the book where I killed them sixty pages ago (like I now know I should’ve done in the first place). And I can do all this because this is going to get another draft.
For now, the most important thing is to just write. Put words on paper or on the screen or on your arm or your friend’s shirt or whatever medium you’ve decided to work in. Stop trying to filter or rein in your creativity and get it all out.
So for now…
February 23, 2017
Dealing With Blockage
This week, I wanted to talk a bit about a familiar malady we’ve all heard of—writer’s block.
It happens to all of us. Y’know, four out of five writers experience writer’s block at some point in their career. Almost 83% on average end up…
Okay, that’s not true.
None of it.
I’ve got to be honest. I fall into the same camp as Isaac Asimov and Piers Anthony. I just don’t believe in writer’s block. Sorry.
Now, let me be clear. Yeah, there are days that I hate writing. Of course there are. This is a full time job for me, and guess what—like everyone else on Earth, there are days I hate my job.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic job, it’s the job I’ve wanted pretty much my whole life (aside from brief dabblings with “astronaut” and “giant robot pilot”)… but there are days it frustrates me. There are days I pull my hair out. There are days I still worry if I’m good enough, days I fret about my future, and days I wonder if I should’ve just sucked it up and found another job as a prop master.
But… I never have writer’s block.
There’s always something I want to write. I never have a shortage of words or ideas. I never stare at the screen and can’t come up with anything.
I think–and this is all just my opinion, so YMMV—that writer’s block is kind of a made up thing, like the muse. It’s an easy excuse not to write. When I see people online talking about being blocked for months or years… I have to be honest, I just don’t buy it.
I think writer’s block tends to boil down to three very real, very relatable things…
Firstis a voice issue. Or maybe an empathy issue. Kinda the same thing, for our purposes here.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago at the Writers Coffeehouse, we talked a bit about voice. I think—especially when we start out—a lot of us tend to write the way we speak. Maybe a little cleaner or clearer, but it’s not that odd for writing patterns to match up with speech patterns. Our narrative voice uses all the same words and phrases and metaphors that we do in our day to day life, because that comes naturally. Makes sense, right?
Thing is, when we go to write… things stop matching up. If we’re any good at this writing thing, we recognize that high elf ladies probably don’t talk like office drones from Dallas or check out clerks from Portland. They’re going to have different vocabularies and cadences. They’re not going to sound like me.
Suddenly I’m not writing “naturally” anymore. This takes effort! It’s work. It means I need to put myself in a different headspace and look at the world—even my fictional world—in different ways.
I think this particular form of writer’s block eliminates a lot of folks from the pool, one way or another. Either they keep going, writing dozens of different characters that all sound pretty much the same… or they give up because they can’t make them sound different. And those folks will talk about being blocked. How they couldn’t get the ideas to flow or the characters didn’t want to come out or something like that…
The secondthing behind writer’s block is fear. Plain old-fashioned fear.
I’ve talked about this before. I think a lot of times when people say they can’t write, it’s more that they’re worried the stuff they are writing isn’t good enough. Is this page, this paragraph, this sentence as good as it could be? Have I used the best words? The best description? Is this the best way to phrase this? Will this win me a Pulitzer or get me mocked on GoodReads?
I think most of us go through this phase at one point or another. We start over-analyzing our work and second-guessing everything we put down. I’ve mentioned the term paralysis by analysis before, which I think sums this up perfectly. We get so scared at the thought of doing something wrong—something that isn’t perfect—that we don’t do anything. We freeze up. We get… blocked.
But we already know the solution to this one, too. It’s just admitting that my work isn’t going to be perfect the first time out. Perhaps not the second, either. It’s going to need editing. Second and third and fourth drafts. Maybe even full rewrites. That’s just the way writing goes. And once I realize this—once I can really admit it to myself—I can get past that fear and my productivity will go through the roof.
And this brings us to the third thing behind writer’s block. And this is the tough one. The hardest one to deal with.
Sometimes people have writer’s block because they don’t have anything to write.
There’s a lot of reasons people sit down and try to write. Sometimes they think it’s easy. Often they have a clever idea, but no real story. Maybe they want the adoration for a finished work more than they want to… well, finish something.
This sounds harsh, I know, but I think most of us know someone like this. Someone who isn’t suffering from writers block, they just like the idea of being a writer more than the reality of being a writer. Because the reality is that this isn’t easy—it’s a lot of work. Some people just aren’t cut out for it.
And look, if that’s you… this is a good thing. Personally, if this isn’t what I’m made for, I’d rather know sooner than later. Maybe I love writing as a recreational thing, but I’m just not geared to do it professionally. That’s how I am with cooking. And drawing. And cosplay. And running. I like it, I have some rough talent for it, but I freely admit I’m not mentally wired to do it as more than a pastime. If I hit a rough patch… well, I just shift to something else.
Like some folks do with writing.
Y’see, Timmy, if you ask me, writer’s block is really just a big, catch-all name we throw over other problems. Inexperience. Fear. Lack of interest. It’s intimidating when it’s a vague concept, but once we break it down into an actual issue, we can address it and deal with it.
And beat it.
Next time, I’d like to talk about the type of story I’m working on.
Until then… go write.
February 20, 2014
I’m kind of on a roll right now with the new book, so—if you don’t mind—I’m just going to make a quick observation and get back to it. Next week I’ll prattle on for far too long like I normally do.
So… said with the golden rule firmly in mind
Worrying if all the words are right in a first draft is a lot like worrying if I’m getting a band or a DJ for my wedding when I’m not dating anyone. It just doesn’t matter at this stage. If I keep obsessing over those later elements, I’m never going to take care of the earlier ones.
Write a first draft. Perfection will show up in the later ones. Honest.
Next time, we’re well into screenwriting contest season, so I thought I’d talk about the stories contest readers hate.
Until then, go write.