Okay, first off, it’s time for some shameless pandering.
Permuted Press just released a collection of short stories I wrote called The Junkie Quatrain. I talked about it here a couple weeks ago. There’s a little picture/ link of it over there on the right (the green one). It’s four connected/ interwoven/ overlapping short stories set in the same post-apocalyptic world. I’ve been explaining it to people as 28 Days Latercrossed with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.It adds up to a mid-sized novella, so it’s also very cheap.
Anyway, I was thinking about today’s little rant and a phenomenal analogy sprung to mind. No, seriously, phenomenal. You’ll be talking about this one for months to come. Ready?
Have you ever watched an episode of Jeopardy where Alex Trebek will give an extremely easy clue and everyone just stands there? He’ll say something like, “It’s the longest river in Egypt,” and all three contestants will twist their faces with intense concentration. The timer eventually runs out and an eight hundred-dollar clue vanishes into the game-show ether.
The answer is “The Nile,” by the way.
Thing is, you all knew that, didn’t you? And so did those three hypothetical contestants. They were just overthinking it, because there’s no way the answer could be that easy and straightforward. So they convince themselves it has to be something other than their automatic first response.
If you watch Jeopardy a lot, you know one of the most challenging categories (statistically) is “Stupid Answers.” Guaranteed, every time that shows up on the board, the players will miss the first one or two questions. They’ll get something like “It’s the tomb memorializing soldiers whose identities are unknown,” and all three contestants will frown, furrow their brows, run through lists in their—oh, time just ran out again.
There’s actually a catchy little term for this you might’ve heard before. It’s called paralysis by analysis. It’s when we get so caught up in thinking about how to do something that we never get around to doing it.
Some people do this with writing. They get so wrapped up in having the right word and exquisite language and perfect characters that they don’t write a single thing. They’ll spend their time going to seminars with gurus, buying books, and reading article after article about how to write. And in doing so, the one thing they never get around to is… well, writing.
These folks are convinced there has to be something more to it than just sitting down and putting words on paper. They think there has to be some special trick of structure or plot, and once they learn it writing will be a breeze. Until then, it’s not worth doing anything. They end up paralyzed by constant attempts to break storytelling down to a simple formula.
The only way to move forward in your writing is to write. Like so many things, a week of experience is worth more than months of instruction. I’m not saying instruction is useless, mind you, but I have to know when it’s time to put other people’s books aside and start writing my own. Put another way, I can’t expect anyone else to think of me as a real writer if I acknowledge I’m still studying how to be a writer, just like I can’t think of someone as a real doctor if they’re still studying in medical school. We might earn our titles someday… but that day isn’t today.
It’s still close to the start of the year, so next week I’d like to blab about something for the first time.
Until then go write.