You can’t write while you’re writing

The writing process is strange. Most people imagine that writers are able to conjure a story from the aether at will. But storytelling doesn’t work on demand. It’s true that anyone can write, and most people can probably even tell a story, but people who pursue it as a life plan can’t rely on “the moment” to give it to them.

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The writing process is strange. Most people imagine that writers are able to conjure a story from the aether at will. But storytelling doesn’t work on demand. It’s true that anyone can write, and most people can probably even tell a story, but people who pursue it as a life plan can’t rely on “the moment” to give it to them.

Instead, we have to write from other moments. The not-writing moments. The walking-down-the-street moments, the standing-in-a-lift moment, the chips-eating moment. As writers, we’re imagining things to create, worlds to build and characters to know.

And yet, when we’re actually staring at our writing software to actually write, that’s when the algebra short-circuits itself. We become so obsessed with writing something that suddenly, the writer within us becomes self-aware of its existence. But that’s not what storytelling is. Storytelling is the thoughts we have.

And when we’re writing, and while we’re thinking about writing, that’s what on our mind. If you write from the thoughts you have while you’re writing, you’re going to either force it out – and nobody wants to experience the results of that happening – or you’re going to be introverted and will only be able to write about writing. And unless you’re Charlie Kaufman, you won’t be able to do that without coming across as either pretentious and self-indulgent, or unimaginative and self-indulgent. Regardless of what happens, you can’t write based on your immediate thoughts.

You can’t tell a good story from nowhere, not if you value yourself as a professional writer. Writing is unloading. The phrase “deliver the goods” comes to mind. If you’re a novelist, publishers will want to see a well-written manuscript, and that takes planning; if you’re a screenwriter, studios will want to see a well-written screenplay, and that takes planning.

Gather the materials; the thoughts and fantasies that come to you during the mundane and normal moments. Take those things, remember them, carry them in your mind, and release them onto the page. That’s storytelling. Writing is perfectly simple, storytelling is what you must first master.

Have something to bring to the table, because looking at the table won’t summon anything of use.

Author: the Purple Prose Mage

I'm not Batman, but I wish that I were.

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