Essential writing skills: sitting down at the typewriter and bleeding

On my experience there’s a point authors hit with every book where it’s just easier to put it down. You’re stuck on a plot point, or out of ideas, and it’s just too haaaaaaaard. And so the book goes back into the drawer and you go back to firing up Steam for another zombie-shooting session, or whatever.

A wonderful quote from Katherine Mansfield.
A wonderful quote from Katherine Mansfield.

None of which cuts it in the profession. Even in this age of shrinking advances and limited publisher opportunities, if you fail to meet a contract you’ll certainly be up to refund some thousands of dollars in advances.

Or suppose you got your dream job and you’ve got a script to finish for the next Dr Who episode (someone in my city, Wellington, does just that for the BBC). The filming schedule won’t wait for you to re-discover the muse.

That’s also true of self-pubbers, not least because – well, the onus is on to be professional. And there is only one way to do that.

Writing, in short, is all about keeping going – no matter how hard it gets. A bad first draft is always going to be better than no first draft. You can always re-write later – this is what word processors at good at.

This is also where National November Writing Month comes in. It’s an excellent example of the sort of pressure writers come under professionally, and the trick is to keep going – keep pushing – even when the muse has long vanished. As Hemingway put it, you sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

I’ve mentioned it before, I’m mentioning it again now, and I’ll mention it again later. Because this is probably the key thing writers have to master. It’s a mind set as much as a skill. Keeping on keeping on.

The question, of course, is how. And there are tactics and strategies to help. Planning is among them. So is brute-force writing.

More soon.

Copyright ©Matthew Wright 2014

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9 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: sitting down at the typewriter and bleeding

  1. I laughed so hard when you mentioned the Zombie shooting session. Then I stopped laughing and wondered if you wrote this post just for me. Hahaha I greatly appreciate the change in perspective. Thank you. I really needed this.

  2. Well said. I find that once I am well into a project I can somehow summon the strength to push through and break the tape at the finish line. It is the difficult task of stepping back up to the starting block and preparing to run again that exhausts me.

  3. “A bad first draft is always going to be better than no first draft.” This is so important for me to remember. My inner editor can be brutal. I need to bind and gag her and shut her in a closet … at least until I get this first draft done 🙂

    Your posts are always timely!

    1. Thank you! Yes, the first draft is the moment for that inner editor to be firmly banished into the back yard, allowed back only when the draft is finished and in due need of that editing… 🙂

  4. I think the opening line says it all: sitting at the typewriter and bleeding. Me, I tend to sit outside and smoke too much, but eventually something comes to me. Then again, a particularly strong India Pale Ale can really help the creative process sometimes too.

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