making the write decisions
There are no wrong decisions. This is very important to remember. I keep forgetting, which causes me no end of problems until I remember it again.
For a little while, I was working through the exercises in Creativity Rules! (A Writer's Workbook) by John Vorhaus. I never made it all the way through the book. Partially due to a feeling that the exercises were becoming less relevant to my particular practice, and partially due to some irreconcilable issues I came to have with the author's perspective, I fell out of the habit and eventually put the book aside.
Nevertheless, that book did introduce me to a couple of eternal verities that I have tried to hold onto. To wit:
- All writing is good writing. Any writing is more writing than you had before.
- Today's goal: Be a better writer than I was yesterday.
- Writing means deciding, often arbitrarily, between infinite possibilities.
- There are no wrong decisions.
It's that last bit I have to keep remembering. Of late, my freewriting sessions have devolved into circumlocution when they ought to be zeroing in on specifics. "The main character investigates too closely into some mystery," I'll write, "which results in he or she uncovering a Terrible Truth which they will always wish they'd never learned." OK, fine, but what's the mystery? What's the truth? Who is the character?
And that's where I'll stall out--I don't want to make any decisions. I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision. I'll write myself into a corner. I won't know what I'm writing about. If the mystery and the terrible truth involve a corporate outfit, I'll trip over my total ignorance of corporate culture. If it's an IT environment, my memory of how that goes is more than ten years outdated. And that's before I consider the implications of what gender I make the main character, or what economic background, or what their particular role is in the environment where they are investigating the mystery, and...
Which is silly, because, as I must constantly remind myself, there are no wrong decisions. Any decision leads to story. Different decisions lead to different stories. And no decision is final! Sure, each decision narrows the possibilities available within any one story. Once I decide to make the main character a trust-fund baby used to getting his own way at his father's bank, I no longer have the option of making her a woman who has clawed her way out from poverty and up the corporate latter. But after writing for twenty-five minutes about the banker's son, I can open up a new blank document, reset my timer, and write for twenty-five minutes about the self-made woman. Different decisions lead to different stories, and I can write them all.
So I just have to remind myself: Angst over arbitrary decisions is just another way to put off the actual act of writing. It's one of the sneaky ways Resistance and Avoidance manage to crash the productivity party. The moment I notice that I'm writing around the story idea instead of writing it down, that's when I need to convert all that circumlocution into a game of Mad Libs. "[Character] investigates [mystery] in [some corporate environment] and discovers [the horrible truth]... OK, make that 'college intern,' 'weekly meetings she's not invited to,' and 'demonic invocation.' Go! ... OK, now let's try it again with 'newly appointed interim director,' 'shameful inefficiencies concerning environmental studies,' and 'deaths being covered up in appalling numbers'. Wait, doesn't that sound kind of familiar? Who cares, play with it anyway."
Point is, it's a game of fill-in-the-blanks, and there are no wrong answers. Fill in the blanks more or less at random. Write about the results, in good faith and with actual scenes and characters and details. Then fill the blanks again, and write those scenes and characters and details.
Every decision is the right decision, so long as it's the "write" decision.
...And there's your cheesy inspirational slogan for the week. You're welcome!