Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Play The Game - Why Writing Should Never Be Difficult

There's a lot of quotes out there about how difficult it is to write.

A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it to be God.  -Sidney Sheldon

I love being a writer.  What I can't stand is the paperwork.  -Peter De Vries

Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.   -Gene Fowler

Not shown: a teacher asking students to write a poem during a hurricane of tossed chairs.

Make no mistake...there's also quotes about how words stir the soul.  It's fun to write.  ("And then Blake Morrison was hit by a Boeing - the fate of all who messed with me in 2nd grade.")  But it's so easy to stumble.  Maybe you realize this client's copy has to be perfect.  Or maybe you're trying to capture the perfect metaphor.  Maybe you're like me and you realize your fiction needs to be sealed in the places they make Indiana Jones movies about.

And then what happens?  Bam.  The running engine chugs and the dream is over, Rudy.

That really sucks!

Under Pressure

Look.  I'm am American.  And as the rest of the world is keen to point out (THANKS, England!) we're lazy.  I can live with that to a degree.  I don't hate all work, I just hate overwrought work.  The concept of struggling to finish something is undesirable to me.

And lately, after trying to hammer out these posts, thinking I should be writing like some sort of Richard Pryor-Graham Greene-April O'Neil hydra, I think to myself, "wow, I shouldn't be struggling like this."  I love writing funny stuff.  So why should I have to suffer some internal critic to do so?  Just look at him!  Chilling in the back of my brainspace, nagging me to tighten these words up, eating entire KFCs so he can cosplay as Jabba the Hutt's ass this year!

Now that's when the standard advice comes in for writers who battle the block.  And I'm not saying it's not useful.  It's just that it feels like you shouldn't have to silence the critic.  There shouldn't even be a critic.  He should be a Frankenstein of half-director, half-flower child - effortlessly guiding your writing while he prays for the village mob to end his authority hippie existence.

If there's one lesson I learned in this crazy life, it's that we all operate on assumptions.  And just because people say writing can be work doesn't mean it should be at any point.


Now, don't get me wrong - I haven't entirely mastered this.  I can't give you a microwave-ready answer to this problem just yet.  But looking back on my own successes and failures as a writer, I've noticed a definite pattern, one I'll be taking further as I create my own unique solution.  Like shoving a puzzle piece into a different one you're working on.  Yes, that dog has a river for a stomach, it was totally like that when we got him from the pound.

As I've said before, I used to write fiction.  It sucked even though I learned the tricks and tried to meet the quotas.  I even tried to slam down drinks like Hemingway but I got nausea after my first Mr. Pibb.  Looking back, I think those quotas and tips were the problem.  Write like this, damn it, because I'm Writer's Digest, and I rule a small country of books whipped by Orson Scott Card in a turban.

But then I started playing tabletop RPGs.  Suddenly I was writing fiction again.  Sure, I played as a character fighting through scenarios, but isn't that how fiction rolls anyway?  And those techniques I learned just enhanced the game's story even further.  See, when I approached fiction like everyone else, my battleship sunk.  But through the lens of a game, tons of stories suddenly exploded from my brain.  Coherent, viable, badass power stories that could unfold on the side of Dave's tour van.  It was because I ignored the typical way of doing things and made up my own.

Dreamer's Ball

This isn't a perfect solution, but thinking this way's opened up a whole new world for me.  Think about what it can do for you.  If the act of creativity is hard - no matter what field you roam - try pulling back.  Ask yourself if it needs to be hard.  Ask yourself if ignoring common ways of doing things and finding your own path would rock the hell out.

Writing doesn't have to be difficult.  Maybe all it takes is a little brain matter.  And in the case of giving Dave something for van space, it takes grass that lets you see the color Paraguay.


  1. I think I'm going to have to disagree with this post. What you ask for from the creative process is a constant stream of inspiration and vigor (a muse, perhaps) to pull the writer along and keep them elated and energized. I think asking and waiting for inspiration is a valid way to approach a creative work; however, its unrealistic to expect the inspiration to carry you through till the end.

    I'm going to write my own blog post about this which I'll post here. Great topic for discussion!

  2. As promised, here's my further in-depth response: http://literaryaspirations.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/writing-as-a-form-of-play/

  3. Good point. I wasn't being clear enough, I think - namely, I was concerning myself with the tough parts of writing due to mental blocks about how it's supposed to be done. It's less about motivation and more about letting certain preconceptions block your progress.