Hey… I have a lot of ideas for writing but I juat can’t put it on paper… Whenever I try to write I really hate the way it turns out and throw it away… I don’t know what to do, how can I write better and stop being ashamed of myself?
Well, the first thing that occurs to me is that you need to stop throwing away what you do write.
The initial negative perception you’re describing here – where what you’ve just done seems awful or looks like shit – is something that (as far as I can tell) every writer living deals with to a greater or lesser extent, and the only way many of us get anything much done is by learning to shut it up or just ignore it. Some writers suffer from it far worse than others, especially when they’re just getting started.
Here’s the source of the problem. Most of what you read in the world (unless you spend most of your time reading the comments on YouTube) is well-structured, polished, “finished”. It’s been rewritten sometimes numerous times, and then it’s been edited multiple times and gone over by either gifted amateurs or paid professionals. Even badly written stuff, by the time you’ve seen it, looks pretty good.
What comes out of your head onto the paper the first time, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of finished. It is just beginning. It’s almost certainly fragmentary. It’s likely to be all over the place both structurally and stylistically. You may have absolutely no clear sense of where you’re going with it. You may not really know who the characters are or what’s driving them. (Or possibly worst, why anyone in their right minds would like them.)
And all of us who do this work sooner or later find ourselves, in our heads, comparing these tattered just-written piles of unlikely-looking word-blots and splotches against two things: the images of what other people’s work looks like – well-structured, eloquent, rounded, very put-together – or the image of what your work was supposed to have come out looking like. This is where a lot of us run into trouble. We can see in our minds that shining image of the completed work, effective and beautiful and perfect (look up the word eidolon, it applies…). And the shabby raggedy ill-realized thing that’s all we were able to create today stacks up so unbelievably poorly against either what our work (we think) should be, or what (we think) others’ is, that the urge to chuck our own production in the fire or highlight the whole damn thing and hit DELETE is extremely strong.*
And this comparison is exactly the wrong thing to be doing. It is the job of written works in their early stages to be threadbare and patchy and faded-looking. The process of turning them into finished work is like making a film of the wearing-out of a piece of clothing, and then running that film backwards. You look at the patched holes and pull the patches off. The holes get sharper-edged. Then they heal. The garment gets less faded as you work. The seams pull tighter together. The longer you work the more clearly you can see what the “new” garment looked / will look like. And finally you’re done (or as done as you can be when you’re finished telling yourself the story for the first time). …This is of course the point at which you realize the garment’s pockets aren’t big enough, but never mind: dealing with that is what your next draft’s for.
You’ll never get there, though, if you keep trashing your work in the thing-of-rags-and-patches stage. That initial sense of shame will only get worse the more you indulge it; so you’ve got to stop indulging it by throwing your work away.
Therefore, your mission (Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it) is this: you’re forbidden to throw any writing away any more. Everything must be kept. Not just as part of a plan for dealing with this problem, but because (deep breath: shouts) NO WORK IS WORTHLESS. Every piece of writing you do is worth something. You may not be able to perceive just what, at the moment, but that’s not your job. Analysis comes after execution. Overindulge the analysis in the “during” stages and you’ll just turn yourself off.
So cut that the hell out.
Your job now becomes to write and then put what you’ve written away. Don’t come near any given scrap of work for at least thirty days. Put it in a drawer and lock the drawer. Or give the file to someone who won’t look at it. Don’t peek. Let it alone.
After a month you can take a given piece of work out of the drawer and look at it. And you are still not allowed to throw it away. If you hate it, you have to sit down and write at least a page of analysis, specifying what about it doesn’t work. (And none of this “Because it sucks” crap. You need specifics.)
Then you put that analysis away with the piece of writing and leave them for another month. (And no, I’m not kidding. In this world of instant gratification, one of the single most useful things a writer can learn is patience. Are you serious about this? Then take a breath. Having written, go do something else. Leave that bit of work alone and don’t even think about picking at it. Give it time to mature.)
And also: the next day, write another thing. And put it away. And then another thing, and another, and put them away. Little scraps, they can be. To start with, the garment always looks like it’s entirely made of patches. (Which is just fine, because it is.)
If you did that for a whole month – wrote, say, a thousand words a day, and put them away – by the end of the month you would have thirty thousand words. They might not be joined together in any recognizable sequence, but that doesn’t matter. You’d have 30K of words, and such are the wonders of the Law of Averages that I can tell you this with absolutely no fear of being wrong: They cannot all be bad. Some of them will have to be good if only by accident. (Lots of us are beneficiaries of these happy accidents. The more you write, the more likely you are to have them. The universe can be surprisingly kind once you’re starting to impress your will on it at regular enough intervals.)
Anyway. Do that for another month, and you’ve got 60K of words. Do it for another, and you’ve got 90K. That’s a fair sized novel’s worth of words, these days.
Now you put them all in that drawer or file folder again and let them be for another month. No peeking.
After that month, you take out those scraps and start arranging them into a shape that approximates a story. Don’t rush. Pull out and set aside the sequences of words that you don’t like in association with the others. They may be useful for another project.
Something you’ll notice at this point, though. Your embarrassment, your shame at the newly-created stuff, will have started to fade, because you will have been reeducating the parts of your brain that were harboring it into more useful behaviors. Somewhere along the line you’ll realize that you’ve sweated the shame out entirely, forgotten about it. It may pop up again every now and then when you start something new or something particularly ambitious, but the same approach outlined above will get rid of it again. You may have to exorcise this particular minor demon a few times. Don’t fret: you can do it. You’ll find it gets easier every time.
…Now get out there and get started. One scrap at a time. 🙂
*My personal image of Heaven is (among many other things) as the place where you get to sit down and read the perfect, Platonic-solid versions of your books – the books that have actually come out the way you saw them in your head; as if lifted up at a great distance, radiant, satisfying, perfect. Every writer knows what it is to look at a book, even a very successful one, and sigh because whatever else it is, it missed that. And you turn away and say to yourself, Ah well… because we’re in the wrong place for perfection. But it doesn’t mean we don’t yearn.
(originally posted at Tumblr: http://dduane.tumblr.com/post/151484609621/hey-i-have-a-lot-of-ideas-for-writing-but-i )