I know, I talk a big talk. In my Master Jedi post I smacked you across the knuckles with my blogging ruler and told you to hurry the hell up and write already. Well, some of you have spoken up, and to my surprise, it hasn’t been to tell me to get bent. As a matter of fact, some of you want advice… some of you want to know how to hurry up, and since I’ve bloodied your knuckles the least I can do is oblige your request.
We all know the golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. Despite contrary belief, this doesn’t only apply to the act of storytelling, but also to the act of writing itself. Up until my last novel, this was one of my biggest downfalls. As soon as I had an inkling of an idea, a smidge of a plot, a blip of inspiration, I’d run to the closest person and rat myself out. “OMG,” I’d say… “I have the best idea for a story.” I see you nodding your head. You understand this because you do the exact same thing.
Look, it’s instinct to want to tell our closest companions what’s rolling around inside our skull. And it’s especially tempting when they know we’re writers, when they know that storytelling is what we do. It’s a knee-jerk reaction: we want to tell somebody. Anybody. We want to get it out and make it real. We want to hash out potential details and plot points. I get it, believe me. I was the “omg, what do you think of this idea” queen…
Newsflash: this is the fastest way to kill your creativity.
Whenever I’d have a flash of a story idea flicker across my brain, my immediate reaction wasn’t to write it down and it wasn’t to think it over; it was to run to my closest pal and spill it. I’d talk myself in circles, and most of the time I’d discover new and exciting details of my story as I talked and talked and talked… which made me talk and talk and talk that much more. My mind would race around this particular idea for days, sometimes weeks, hell, sometimes months. I’d have it all planned out. It was going to be perfect. Finally, I’d sit down at my laptop, ready to bang it out… and… :crickets:
What! How can this be happening? I know everything there is to know! I know the characters inside and out. I know exactly what’s supposed to happen. How can I sit down to write what I know only to come up empty?
Easy. I talked it straight out of my head.
There is something to be said for secrecy when it comes to writing. Less than a year ago, I’d tell anyone who wanted to know what I was writing. Today, you’ll be lucky to get a single detail out of me. Twist my arm and make me cry uncle, but you won’t know the names of my characters, where they live, how old they are or if they take milk in their coffee. I won’t tell you a damn thing, and it isn’t because I don’t want to. Oh, I want to. I desperately want to. But the moment I let it slip is the moment that little piece of story is lost into the world. The moment I tell you that my main character is lactose intolerant is the moment that silly little detail suddenly becomes a little less important. Why? Because you already know about it. Why should I spend time telling you about it if I’ve already told you in real life?
And that’s where the heart of the problem lies. As soon as you tell your mother or your sister or your best friend about what you’re writing, that primal need to get your story out grows a little weaker. It’s like dripping water into a glass of orange juice. The more details you reveal, the more that water drips… the more you tell, the more watered down that juice becomes. If you do it for long enough, you’re left with nothing but a watery mess. The essence of that story, the juice concentrate if you will, is gone. The urge to tell the story is no longer there because the story has already been told.
You’ve just sabotaged yourself, all while under the impression that you were being wildly creative.
The first step to writing quickly is to concentrate the story you want to tell. To be able to do that, you need to shut the hell up. You have a great book idea? Fantastic. Don’t tell a soul. Don’t even tell your dog. Don’t talk about it to yourself, write it down instead. If it really is a great story idea, the urge to share it with those closest to you will motivate you to write, it’ll help you put your eyes on the prize and push through to the end…run run as fast as you can, because as soon as you finish you can talk about it. You’ll finally have that release.
A good story idea should be your little secret. It’s something that needs to be nursed, protected, and led along until it’s strong enough to stand on its own two feet. As a writer, it isn’t your job to tell your friends and family what you’re thinking about writing. As a writer, it’s your job to write, and it’s your story’s job to tell the story. Talking about it leaves the story without anything to do. It is, in essence, left standing in the unemployment line. And then you wonder why you lack inspiration to write this brilliant story down. It’s because your story is standing in line at the grocery store with a fist full of food stamps, muttering curses under it’s breath at the author that took it’s job away.
You want to write quickly? Shut your face. If you want to kill your creativity, by all means, tell me every last detail of your story idea in the comments. I’ll write it a eulogy. It’ll be beautiful.
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9 thoughts on “Know Your Place; Shut Your Face!”
I do get the urge to tell the people closest to me about my ideas. All except the last one that I have jotted down in a journal until I finish the draft of the novel I’m currently working on.
Kati, don’t give in to the temptation. It’s amazing how much you get done when you cut yourself off from the world, creatively, and allow that creativity to grow.
What you say is sooo true. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why when I journal I cannot write about what happened in the course of the day. It’s already happened and it bores me. I’ve got to be interested in what I am writing.
This is also the first time I’ve read a post on this. I like reading fresh stuff and this is what I’m liking about your blog.
Thanks Chris! 🙂
Good post. Fortunately I’ve avoided this temptation by keeping some type of note-taking apparatus near at all times. You never know when and where a good idea will strike and the best thing to do with it is put it down as a ‘story idea’ somewhere secret when it hits. If it keeps coming back, kicking and clawing and screaming to get out of your head, then it is a story in the making.
Oh, and I’m subscribed to the blog, BTW, thanks for the tip via Twitter 🙂
Thanks Todd. Good to have you!
For me, just writing ideas down wasn’t enough. I’d always give in to temptation. There’s something alluring about talking to another human being about your ideas. Maybe it’s a need for reassurance that the idea isn’t a stupid one. Who knows. All I know is… baaaad idea.
Hi! I was wondering where you disappeared to! I often check your boneblack wordpress, but figured you abandoned that completely. Found you again through dA and I’m STOKED that you’re just as good of a writer as you are a visual artist.
I’ve been waiting for an article like this… I always suspected this, but am glad to finally see it in black and white and explained better than I ever could. I never understood why I completely abandoned writing ’till just now. I wish I could print this out and have it be a poster on my wall, just so I never forget it.
Glad I found you again =).
Glad you found me as well!
As good a writer as I am an artist… I don’t know, I guess only time will tell on that one. My novel will be out in June of this year, so if you’re inclined, you can make up you own mind on that. 🙂
I actually abandoned writing for a long while as well. There were a lot of reasons for it, but I feel like picking it up again was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself–at least creatively. Writing has always been my first love, and while I love visual art, I always felt like something was missing.
Maybe this blog will inspire you to do the same. 🙂
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