- Paul Mooney
Creative writing is not something reserved only for those dreaming of selling their first literary masterpiece to the world at large. Storytelling is a key element of many things we do in business, from presentations to white papers (to stories at the water cooler, but we are trying to stay in the non-fiction realm here).
I'll clear up any mystery right off the bat: the hard part is actually writing something. Not all that mysterious of a revelation, I grant you, but still one worth pointing out. Of all the parts of writing a novel, the lengthy process of putting all the thoughts words rattling around in your head onto paper and winding up with the narrative you want is as difficult and frustrating as anything you're likely to undertake. For me, it was made up of countless hours and months of late nights in between full and part time jobs over the course of two years.
I knew it would be a time-consuming endeavor before I ever typed my first word. And any of you looking to move up from being one of those people who always talks about writing a novel to one of the proud people who have should expect the same from the onset. That's a given when you're writing anything with a page count in the triple digits, and I'm sure any of you who have even considered writing a lengthy piece know that fact all too well. But there were a few smaller, though still quite frustrating and less-than-expected hurdles that I came across. So, for the benefit of any of you with aspirations of writing your own story, here are a list of heads-ups and my thoughts on how to keep your typing (or penning, for you old-school authors) going smoothly. My perspective comes from putting together a novel, but the lessons are applicable any time you need to tell a tale.
· Don't fight yourself. Always write what you feel like writing. Don't get hung up on what you feel like you should be focused on. If you want to write the ending halfway through, do it. If you want to write all of one character's chapters before any others, do that. Follow your own flow. You can piece it together later, just get it written.
· Grease your creativity. The wheels of everyone's brain can squeak every now and then, so figure out what it takes to keep things running smooth. Do you feel like you write better on an empty stomach, or with a full plate of food before you? Do your ideas tend to pop up at night or during the daytime? Do you need to be wearing a specific pair of argyle socks or drinking just the right gin and tonic? Whatever you think makes you write better and with greater ease, does so. Present Tense has written several articles about how this can also foster creativity and ownership in all of your projects.
· Distractions can help. Personally, I need a TV on or some music playing to keep my brain off-kilter and write well. But even if you're the type who needs perfect silence and solitude, taking the time to distract yourself with something you enjoy will keep your from getting too stuck. If you feel like you're banging your head against a wall on a particular thing or can't quite figure out what to do next, do something else for a bit. Go to the movies, take a walk, or break-dance like crazy. A breather now and then can keep the writing enjoyable and help stave off the dreaded writer's block.
· Keep reading. Credit where credit is due, this bit of advice goes back to my Screenwriting 101 class. Keep reading books while you're writing yours. Fiction, non-fiction, physics textbooks, whatever it is you enjoy. You never know what could inspire you in your own work or what new words you'll pick up. Plus, reading is always an enjoyable distraction when you need one of those aforementioned, much-needed breaks.
· Relax. Easiest to say (or type), hardest to follow. Things will get frustrating. You will write sections you realize you hate. You will have periods of time where you will get no writing done, and they will feel like eternities. And you will definitely have more than enough "Is any of this actually any good?" moments. All of those (and other troubles like them) are as unavoidable as they are frustrating. But letting your writing turn from a passion into a chore will stop you dead. So don't let those kinds of things stop you, just roll with them as best you can and keep calm.
· Get help. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking someone you trust for thoughts on how to get you unstuck. Sometimes it might be you just don’t have the time to get things worked out and need a team to help ghostwrite sections or just organize your thoughts. Sometimes you can get by with a new brainstorming technique. While writers are usually portrayed as lone wolves, there are times when you can emerge from your cave and seek a line or two. That’s what acknowledgements pages are for.
I certainly don't have all the answers to get you through writing a novel and no one else does either. Your purpose and process for writing is your own. And the real key to finishing your novel or any project is making sure – no matter how strenuous, time consuming, and/or challenging it is – you never stop enjoying it. Loving what you're doing will reflect itself in the quality of any writing you do, particularly something as colossal and personal as a novel. Achievements with a level of difficulty on par with the level of pride you'll feel upon completion are the ones worth doing.
Hopefully you can look forward to my next post on this subject in the near future, all about the process of peer review and working to actually getting your work published (Or, in my case, having Lana and the Present Tense team do most of the work to get my novel published. I'm the creative-type, whereas they’re actually useful). I will probably call it: The Painful Part. I imagine Lana may write a companion piece entitled The Part When I Almost Strangled Paul.
[Editor’s Note: The entire last paragraph might be true, but if it’s the authorities asking, I have no idea what you are talking about…]
Paul Mooney is a contributing writer to Present Tense LLC. With a background of film, screenwriting, advertising, and a healthy dose of the Marine Corps he has many stories to share. He is a freelance writer and producer living in New York City. Follow some of his writing on Task & Purpose as well as some of his antics on Brocast News.
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