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Monday
Mar212016

Letter to Students: Giving In and Giving Up

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails. To sign up for a Writing Games class, visit my Events page.

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So, this week we just had an intro to Writing Games and the ideas and techniques we'll explore together. We focused a lot on the idea of quieting the voice in your head that says, "Don't write that, that's stupid." We also talked about lowering the stakes, so that when you write you aren't freighted down with self-imposed expectations. Trying too hard to prove that internal voice wrong is really just another way of giving in to it--that's how we sometimes get that feeling of "charlatanism." If anyone in class has practiced meditation, they may be familiar with the idea of not being for or against a feeling, but simply dwelling with it. That's sort of what happens when we stop trying to prove the "stupid voice" wrong, and simply ignore it instead (like an annoying yappy dog), focusing all our attention on writing what makes our hearts sing, and not what sounds good or smart or unique or edgy. If you do that long enough, that voice of inhibition will shrink to a tiny whisper.

Whether you're an aspiring career writer or just having fun, I highly recommend this article by Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, on his writing life:  

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

...The most defeatist thing I hear is, "I’m going to give it a couple of years." You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice.

Even if you're not looking to start a career in writing, I like what he points out about "hiding the brushstrokes." I think there's a general impression of writers, that true geniuses nail it on the first draft. Nobody nails it on the first draft. Let's just remove that expectation right up front.

For those who are interested in a career in writing, I think the second paragraph I quoted is very powerful. While I don't agree with him later on in the article when he says you shouldn't get too good at your day job, I do agree that if you set a deadline for writing success (however you define it), you are already resigning yourself to failure. You're basically paying out the time until your deadline, which, face it, is much less frightening than going for what you really want and dream about.

To view all the Letters to Students,click here. 

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