Let’s return to the writing process. On the one hand, word play is akin to house building; for both activities, practitioners decide: what to assemble, how to frame their edifices, how to denote partitions, where to gather support materials, how to ascertain that their structures are plum and otherwise sound, and how to implement detail work. As well, for both activities, completed construction yields products that their makers can sell or keep for personal use.
On the other hand, just as no levelheaded people would rashly declare themselves architects, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, or workers proficient in any skilled trade, no levelheaded people would rashly declare themselves poets, novelists, essayists, or specialists proficient in any genre. It takes tens of thousands of hours to gain mastery whether folk are fashioning buildings or books.
The analogy ends here, however, since the skilled trades typically offer their newcomers lengthy apprentice programs and since they typically insist that their candidates take exams for licensure. Contrariwise, would-be writers’ training is often limited by the curricula of the MFA programs in which a notable per cent of them enroll.
Hopefuls, who spend a year or two taking writing classes, discover that significant chunks of their schooling are earmarked for: taking notes on instructors’ talks, reading published works, and studying the rudiments of critiquing. Listening to lectures, scrutinizing an array of manuscripts, and learning how to respond to peer and professional texts do help budding writers become aware of the history and breadth of literature and of its building blocks. Those goings-on, nonetheless, cannot substitute for the vocation’s most considerable qualification. For persons fancying becoming crackerjack creators, nothing can take the place of the vast amount of time needed to sharpen writing, over all, or to improve rewriting, more exactly.
A college degree is worth far less that actual aptitude (I make this claim despite the fact that I spent decades employed as an academic.) While education and experience are not mutually exclusive, it’s unrealistic to believe that merely: paying lots of money, showing up for and completing courses, and devoting scant hundreds of hours to composition, can morph people into aces. For now, just trust me that diplomas guarantee no prowess.
Evidence the number of aspirants and “established” writers that become stuck at the onset of writing ventures. Those same individuals, who have fun conceptualizing the pulling together of words, forget that it takes a lots of effort to marshal them in meaningful ways. Sure, venue-issued word counts and themes help limit the nature and length of submitted pieces, still it continues to be easier to set a writing task in motion with a surfeit of material (think dressmaking) than with barely enough or not nearly enough stuff to meet editors’ and publishers’ demands.
For writers to move beyond germination obstacles, they must talk to themselves. Furthermore, they must become disciplined in transferring their ideas from their heads to some sort of paper or electronic tablet or type of peripheral storage.
Per the former, successful people customarily manage their thoughts via internal dialogue. They look to inventorying personal shortcomings and strengths to convey themselves forward. By identifying the fears that stymie them and by harnessing their qualities that they love, writers become better imagineers.
In numerous cases, creatives fear disappointment (after all, procrastination allows people to “fail” themselves rather than to subject themselves to external rejection.) In other cases, inventive individuals perceive themselves as lacking worth. They may doubt their deservedness of entree to audiences, or they may deem themselves deficient in language or knowledge crucial to their undertakings.
Regardless of the cause of rising artists’ cerebral gridlocks, they can overcome those jams. All that they have to do is to break the writing process into small steps. Like persons trying to lose fifty kilos, or trying to become adept in higher math, writers do well to learn goal management. Just as new dieters are advised to start with twenty daily minutes of walking, and just as ambitious thinkers are cautioned to learn algebra before attempting geometry and to absorb geometry before trying trigonometry, amateurish scribblers benefit from progressing slowly.
For instance, my experience with writing students, who ranged from elementary-aged children to adults pursing graduate studies, dictates that most persons are helped by setting time limits for idea generation. If inexpert writers try for ten, or, at most, fifteen minutes, per session, to document whatever is in their heads, without editing their scribbles for semantics or syntax and if they repeat that strategy daily, over the course of roughly a fortnight, they can become accustomed to sitting down and then immediately writing. Plus, they will grasp why self-control is essential for writers.
There are other techniques that effectively help writers kick off, including: list making, brainstorming, rough outline writing, ideogram fabricating, and so on. What matters most is not the route rookies take to pass through their mental or emotional snarls, but that they take any route at all. Mull over the fact that leg presses, barbell back squats, and sprints, comparably, build quadriceps, and that in terms of neophyte exercise enthusiasts, existent injuries aside, it matters less which form of drills are completed than it does that drills are regularly carried out. Writing is not breathing; it is a system of methodical toil.
Writing achievements involve consistent, concerted exertions. In “Writing Your Way into Your Novel,” Cat Rambo, a highly esteemed speculative fiction writer and the current president of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, reminds us that “one thing is always true: a butt must go into a chair and the words must be written.”
Fortunately, in the majority of cases, getting comfortable hatching ideas takes relatively little time. Once writers can summon chowders of cats, bamboos of pandas, congregations of alligators, or bunches of topics, they can redirect their attention to more interesting challenges like selecting among subjects and developing those chosen foci.
One way to narrow thoughts is to save discarded ones. By holding onto castoff kernels, writers can feel good about hauling forth more ideas than any particular job needs.
For me, this tactic means keeping files of my unused and underdeveloped notions. Either when I’ve amassed enough associated bits to dictate my starting another project, or when projects I’m already in the midst of developing need fresh input, I turn to those collections. I keep separate archives for big projects, such as this blog, and one general register for all of my smaller obligations. Maintaining a personal, outlying, storehouse of unused paragraphs and pages is another vehicle that writers can employ to become unstuck.
Irrespective of developing the habit of free writing and of developing the habit of saving scraps, writers can use tenacity to help them escape their inner bogs. Many times, when people “just do it,” they’re pleasantly surprised by the nature and quantity of what they bring into existence. When engaging in laps, for example, most swimmers initially regard their pools' water as cold. Yet, they are able to enjoy extended period of swimming because the more that they move through their medium, the more pleasant they find it.
In sum: writing is an art that may or not lead to a satisfying product, mastery of writing takes tens of thousands of hours, and rewriting is the most important part of writing. What’s more, developing a discipline of free writing, saving unused ideas in accessible places, and making use of doggedness help writers begin the process of creation.