Written by: Cameron Deslaurier
As with any writing advice, take these with your grain of salt. Or, even better, just pick out the grains that work for you.
1. Not Writing is a Red Flag
From Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, this is often the piece of advice that pushes me out of writing slumps. If I’m not writing—specifically if I don’t want to write—it’s a red flag.
There’s always drudgery to certain aspects of projects, and the whole mess of what you love becoming work. But if I love to write and I don’t want to, it probably means that something is off with what I’m writing.
The scene is tedious, and I can’t stand all the setting description I’m making up and packing in? Chances are, the type of chapter I’m writing shouldn’t have that much exposition. A piece is starting to feel pointless? If I’m that unmoved by it, perhaps it isn’t meant to be at the moment. And that’s ok—I pop it into my compost pile! (Maybe you call yours a reject pile, a “later” pile, or even a graveyard—whatever you fancy.) A character I love is now a sludge to write? I may have I lost sight of who I intended them to be.
Oftentimes, I find that my boredom is an indicator of a problem, and if I can find a way to fix my boredom, I may find a way to fix the problem.
2. Good Writers are Actually Good Editors
Accompanied by “The first draft of anything is shit,” and quite a few other, more positive metaphors—like shoveling sand into a sandbox so that later you can create a castle—I attribute this piece of advice to my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Williams.
It’s easy to look at your first draft and call it shit. Great—at least it’s there. Writing may feel perfect when it’s protected in your head, but that’s not really writing. Get words, any words, shitty words—just words!—onto your paper or screen. Then walk away to get some distance, and edit later. If your current draft isn’t working, that’s ok. The magic is in the sculpting, and you can only do that if you put the sand in the box.
3. “It’s All Been Written Before” is False… and a Statement of Privilege
Does “enemies to lovers” exist in thousands of iterations, some of which are more or less indistinguishable? Yes. If you feel angsty, have thousands of people written about angst already? Yes.
So make it your own. Find the words that only you know. Use ice to describe a kiss instead of fire. Call your heart an inverted pin cushion. The human experience is as vast and individual as we are, and it expands as far as we are willing to write it.
Furthermore, queer narratives, trans narratives, disabled narratives, narratives by people of color, and an infinite list more, are disproportionately lacking in number. This is both because that they’ve historically been written less, and because that the narratives that have been written were often erased from history, or quite literary shoved into the margins. It’s our job, along with finding and honoring our so often erased histories, to write the stories we wish we could hold.
4. Don’t Block Out the Reader’s Rabbit
The rabbit is Steven King’s example, as explained in his On Writing in “What Writing Is.” The idea is simple: if he writes a description of a white rabbit with an “8” marked on its back in blue ink, and tells you that it’s sitting in small cage on a table covered with red cloth, munching or a carrot stub, you’re going to see it. Not exactly as he does—some people will see the table cloth as scarlet, and others as burgundy—but we’ll all see it, and that’s what matters.
I used to have terrible anxiety that my readers would never picture my scenes and characters exactly as I do. I wanted my stories to be exact transferals of images, like films. This led to me overwriting to an extent that not only flatlined my pacing, but resulted in a reading experience akin to reviewing inventory.
But the written word is neither a transferal of exact images nor film—and it shouldn’t try to be. Writing does something that film cannot: it allows the reader to become participatory through reading. Writing allows us to share infinitely varied, connected versions of the same stories. So don’t drown your reader in details. Let them decide what color the cloth is.