[This is Part 2 of the How I Write series. Here’s Part 1, Who Should Write, When Should You Start? If you want to follow along.]
You can listen to me read this article by clicking ‘play’ on the audio wave below:
The prolific author of some 50 books, Stephen King, said something in his book, On Writing, that struck me when I read it a couple years ago. He said something to the effect (I couldn’t find the fucking quote this afternoon when I needed to find it, so I’m going with my own paraphrased version) that he wrote quickly to outrun the Demons of Doubt. I’m not sure whether that is his phrase, or just the way I remember it, but either way, it kicks ass. And it’s both enlightening, and comforting.
If one of the most prolific writers of the 20th and 21st centuries has Demons of Doubt to outrun, if he questions whether what he writes is worth a damn, worth writing, worth publishing, worth reading, then the rest of us should take a deep breath, and get to work writing, and keep writing, as fast as we can.
There are those who think that Inspiration drops out of the sky, like some kind of manna from heaven, and only comes to those with ‘talent.’ Bullshit. Talent is vastly overrated, trust me, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog article. My talent is probably sub-par, quite frankly, but I have stories to tell, and things to say, so I just fuckin’ say’em. So should you!
Writing Like a Machine: Outrunning the Demons of Doubt
This episode is just about writing fast, and often. And if you really want to learn to write, that’s what you gotta do my friend. Write like a fuckin’ banshee. Write as fast as you can, and get’er done. Doesn’t matter if it’s any good, hell, I wrote this article in less than an hour, not including the polishing. But that first draft ain’t about polish. It’s about getting words out of your head and onto the page. That’s all that matters man. Just get’em out. So just keep writing, keep typing.
What if you don’t know what to write?
Who fuckin’ cares? You shouldn’t. The first draft isn’t about that. And maybe what you write this morning won’t ever see the light of day. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you got something on the page, even if it’s complete bullshit and no one ever reads it. You were writing.
Take athletes, for instance. Do they compete every day? Hell no. Most of their days, weeks, months, are spent training and practicing: every damned day.
Writing is no different. And just in case you were starting to wonder, this isn’t just about writing; it’s about life. It’s an exercise in living. Most of life, is just getting out of the bed and moving your ass to do something, anything besides giving up. Life ain’t glamorous; neither is writing.
I was a musician for many years. Same thing there. People think that playing rock n roll is glamorous. Whatever. Try loading up a couple thousand pounds of sound equipment, unloading it, setting it up, performing for 3 or 4 hours while drinking heavily and wondering what happened to all the low-browed rednecks that were in the bar when you arrived, while singing Jethro Tull at the top of your lungs to your girlfriend and the bartender—who really just wants to go home—then tearing down and packing all that gear up, drunkER, loading it up into a car that’s entirely too small, driving home, sleeping for a few hours, and getting up to go to some shit job, and tell me how glamorous it is.
Writing is a bit lonelier. We usually do it alone–so early in the morning or late in the night that even the Almighty is still snoozing–in a room somewhere, with our cat curled up on the desk sucking her tail like a binky (that’s my Punkin’), cat hair wafting up our nose, too many dusty books stacked on the desk, and Arlo Guthrie blasting in the background. Maybe there’s a mug of coffee, or in my case, a Mason jar full of South Farthing Sweet Tea. Ain’t much glamor in that.
The Mythical Author
We all have this image of the great writers with their pipes, booze, beach huts with hammocks, lapping waves on the shore outside, and shotguns in their mouths because they’re so tortured that they must push out masterpieces or die in the attempt. All while pretty young girls beat down their doors, throwing themselves at their tweedy, patched elbows, and kissing their loafered feet, or lounging around the mansion like in some Lord Byron-ian dream. Yeah, keep dreamin’ friend.
That ain’t how it goes. Mostly, writers are locked away in a room to keep out distractions, typing like mad, every day, for years, hoping that they’ll produce something worth reading, let alone worth selling to someone else, mostly disappointed. Sometimes what we have to say is humorous, sometimes enlightening, sometimes just recyclable, as in, “Throw that shit in the bin.” But we keep writing. It ain’t glamorous. It’s just writing.
It doesn’t even matter what you write. A couple days ago I had zero ideas, so I ran my fingers randomly over the keyboard for a few minutes just to get characters on the page. Seriously, I did! Fuck it! Hell, take a page from one of King’s favorite characters. Write something, even if the only thing you write for that one hour is, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Just make sure to lock up the croquet mallets and fire axes–throw away the key–and keep writing.
In conclusion–something you should never write, ever–if you want to be a writer, you have to write, and the best way to do that is as fast as you can. Because creeping up behind you are the Demons of Doubt. They’re gonna say,
“Who the hell are YOU to write a book, article, or Hallmark greeting card?”
“What the fuck do YOU know about this topic?”
“That last sentence was complete crap! I can’t believe you’re gonna keep typing after that. I’d just stop and go do laundry, or clean the kitchen. At least that would be productive!”
Or they will say,
“That character is ridiculous. No one’s ever gonna read that shit. Who’s gonna read a story about a high-school, misfit girl who can burn down the gym with her eyes?”
Or a million other things.
Wanna know something? That last question was from one of Mr. King’s demons. The first several pages of what would become Carrie, ended up in a waste-basket thanks those very demons. Luckily for us, and Mr. King, he had a wife who believed in him. Tabitha King pulled those pages out of the trash, read them, looked him in the eyes, and told him that he needed to “keep writing.” He did. The rest is history.
Don’t give into your demons, any of them. The best way to combat those demons is to just keep running in front of them. Hell, we all know from the movies that they can’t run very fast, anyway. As long as you aren’t wearing heels, and you keep running, and don’t fall down twisting your ankle and drop the keys under the car, you’ll get away. But if you don’t keep writing, typing, and running, Cujo, Carrie, the Man in Black, Jack Torrence, and Randall Flagg are gonna catch up, and that ain’t ever a good thing.
JUST FUCKIN’ WRITE, ALREADY! and KEEP WRITING!
Also, do join me and many other writers and creative people on Anchor, where we are having an open discussion on the topic of writing! Below is the full discussion that took place today, if you want to listen into the fun!
Subscribe to the blog, on the right, to get the next episode,
Steve Bivans is the author one book, Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth: the Guide to Sustainable Shire Living, over 100 blog articles, and is currently working on his second book, The End of Fear Itself.