What To Do When The Words Just Don’t Sound Right
(Note: I was going to call them damn words in the headline, because sometimes the words feel like they need cursing. But then I censored myself, because this is going out in my newsletter, and I don't want to offend people. Do words like damn offend people? I don't know. You tell me. I wouldn't be offended, but you might be. Anyway…)
I had an email this week from a young writer whose friendship I treasure. She is in her early teen years and an avid writer. Or has been an avid writer. According to her email, all of a sudden, when she writes, nothing sounds, well, right. It comes out cliched. Doesn't ring true or feel authentic. And she asked me what she should do.
It is a very good question, and a difficult one to answer. When I think back to the answer I gave her, I'm not sure it was particularly helpful. So this is my attempt to rectify that and maybe help some of you who've struggled with this as well. (Who am I kidding? I'm also doing it to help myself–because yes, this happens to every writer at some time or another.)
Process, not product. We too easily get wrapped up in thinking about the end result of our writing. The same impulse that causes writers to inquire of me, "I've got a great idea for a book, how do I get an agent?" (answer: write the book first) also causes us to worry about the end result. When first you are starting a project, your job is to get words on the page and not worry how they may or may not be.
Do the work, don't judge it. This goes hand in hand with the above. Because if you're judging the work, there's a good chance you're not allowing yourself to get into the flow of it. Again, write. Throw words at the page. Let yourself get swept away in the wonder of the creative process. Fall in love with writing again.
Creativity comes in cycles. This not liking your work is a stage, and probably a sign that you're onto a different level in your writing. Because, in the past you might have been satisfied with the way these words sound. But now you're not.
Mind the gap. Riders on the London Underground are familiar with this exhortation to watch the space between the train and the platform. But gaps happen in writing, too. There can be a huge gap between the story you see in your head and your ability to get it on the page. And this can cause frustation as you struggle to master your craft. Of course the best thing to do is:
Keep writing. In truth, at a time like this, you should write more. Write journal entries, poems, flash fiction, political polemics, personal essays, character sketches, or anything else you can think of. It doesn't matter so much what you are writing as that you are writing. Because the more words you throw at the page, the more understanding you will have of how to put them together so that they sound pleasing to you.
Don't second guess yourself. Commit to something and write it. Don't question whether you should be writing a novel or a memoir or a short story, just get started on a project and work at it. And please don't second guess you decision to be a writer.
Finish things. I will confess: I'm terrible at this. I abandon stories when I can't figure out where they are going and I despair over longer pieces and give up. (And you should see my yarn closet, it is full of half-finished pieces.) However, I'm working to get over this tendency, which stems from bright shiny object syndrome, because finishing WIPs puts you in a different place. You know more about your story when you get to the end and you've learned more about writing when you complete a piece.
So those are some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful. What do you do when you find yourself in this situation?
Photo by clix.