Recently a writer friend wrote to me about a problem. She’d been writing non-fiction material (and successfully selling it). However, when she returned to fiction, she felt paralyzed.
She wrote, “I’m struggling when I try to write fiction. I’ve been working on a short story for a few days, and the sentences are so slow in coming! Sometimes I fear I may be overthinking it. I’ve learned about using strong verbs instead of too many adjectives and adverbs, about showing instead of telling, about not insulting the reader with too much description, about keeping the action going, about giving my characters layers. So I sit and stare at my screen instead of writing what I think isn’t good enough….”
I can relate, and I bet many of you writing colleagues can, too. If I spend even a few days writing non-fiction, it’s challenging to switch gears back to fiction-based thinking. Composing logical non-fiction material and crafting fictional characters into stories are different skills.
Maybe this lesson I learned will unshackle your own creativity: You must give yourself permission to write junk. Nobody’s first draft is a masterpiece. Even successful authors who teach writing courses don’t produce flawless prose on the first draft.
Writing is like creating a snow sculpture. Before you can sculpt, you must expend energy amassing a big, ugly pile of snow. After you’ve done that, you can take spoons and butter knives and start shaping the mass into a statue. But you can’t simply pick up handfuls of loose snow and pat them one at a time into the final, completed sculpture. You need the intermediate stages as you chip away and shape the snow into a shape worth seeing.
Similarly, in writing don’t worry if the words you type into your first draft are bland or break rules as they appear on the monitor. The first draft is the raw, creative stage. In it, you’re accumulating all your ideas (like piling up loose snow) into one spot and into a general shape. Once all the basic characters, ideas, and plot are there, you go back with your writer tools and rework that rough manuscript into the story you envisioned. If you’re a normal writer, you’ll need to work through it multiple times before the final version emerges. Even then, you’ll want to retouch it here and polish it there to make your final creation shine!
Those are the tips I shared with my struggling friend. Some days later, she wrote back to say, “It worked! Thank you so much for the advice. I may have to start paying you, lol.”
People paying a writer for his words? Now there’s a novel idea!