We writers tend to tie ourselves up in knots. We know that the first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but we still manage to act like it does. We have a hard time giving ourselves permission to write utter crap. We forget how freeing it is to not be perfect. An icon I found on LiveJournal years ago sums this up succinctly: Writing was so much easier when I sucked at it.
I don’t know about you, but when I was young and unaware of all the rules about writing and what makes good writing, it came easy. There was no stifling self-criticism. There was no paralyzing need for perfection. There was nothing but me and the words. I could immerse myself in story for hours at a time, without a single thought about grammar, plot, characterization, or any of the other trappings of good writing. I’ve looked back at some of the stories I had written back in my school years, and the poems — oh, the dreadful poems! It is all utterly unpublishable crap.
But I enjoyed every minute of writing it. I never entertained a single critical thought about any of it. And the words flowed with abandon.
That is what we need. Permission to write with the abandon of youth. Permission to suck. Permission to write utter crap.
Break the Rules
If you’re feeling stuck with your NaNoWriMo novel, or with anything else you’re writing, don’t just give yourself permission to write crap — demand it.
Sit down and write the most imperfect prose you can imagine. Break every rule in the Turkey City Lexicon. Fill your word count with adverbs and Tom Swifties. Don’t bother plotting or organizing your thoughts. While you’re busy telling (and not showing) your story, something amazing can happen. You may find the story suddenly coming to life in wonderful and unexpected ways.
Keep Moving Forward
The trick to winning NaNoWriMo all comes down to this: Keep writing forward. Don’t stop for anything. Here are a few tricks to help you keep the momentum moving forward if you feel stuck:
1) Summarize. Summarzing my get you through a rough spot, or a boring spot, or a creative block. After a few hundred words of summary, you may be surprised to find yourself struck with inspiration again. Keep the pen moving across the paper. Keep your fingers moving across the keyboard. Don’t wait for inspiration — make yourself an environment conducive for inspiration instead.
2) Complain. If you can’t even come up with a summary, write anyway. Even if the first words you write are “I don’t know what to write.” Be careful not to focus on that thought too much though. Think your way around the problem on paper or on-screen. The act of writing itself while you’re thinking about the problem may shake some inspiration loose for you.
3) Skip around. If you feel stuck on what comes next, skip it. If you know what the final battle needs to look like, but you don’t know how to get there, write the final battle anyway. Take Jonathan Lethem‘s advice and skip the transitions. Don’t even bother with writing a linear story. Write what inspires and excites you. The act of writing those scenes may even jostle out some ideas for how to get there. I wrote an entire short story consisting only of the good parts. No transitions. No summary. Nothing but the scenes that inspired me. It inspired an editor enough that she paid me for it and published it.
4) Shoot it all. Wakefield Mahon said it perfectly on Twitter: Shoot it all, edit later. Ignore Jonathan Lethem’s advice and write every opening door and every cup of tea if that’s what it takes to keep the creative momentum moving.
5) Make notes. If you decide that something needs to be changed do not go back and edit. I learned this trick from Holly Lisle. Any time you feel the urge to go back and edit, make a note instead, then keep moving forward as if you had already made the changes. I make notes in my writing by using brackets [like this]. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect word or going back to change anything you’ve already written. Note it, then move forward. You can go back and edit when you’re done.
Once you get the steam going — don’t stop. Don’t look back. Don’t become the literary equivalent of Lot’s Wife. If you look back, you risk turning your creative momentum into a self-critical pillar of salt. Keep your creative momentum moving forward.
Kimberly lives in a rural village near Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, two daughters, and a cat. She is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader and enjoys making money by reading books. Every now and then she even reads one just for fun. Her NaNoWriMo novel is The Hunter’s Daughters, a story about mothers, daughters, magic, rebellion, lovers, lost dreams, and … zombies.
7 thoughts on “[Guest Post] Writing Utter Crap”
Fabulous post! Summarizing has served me pretty well this year – not just writing “TK” as a note to go back and fill it in later, but spelling out what needs to happen eventually to move the story along, as well as notes about approximately where the scene lies in the story.
And, yes, I’m describing quilt embroidery and kitchen layouts for the sake of word count.
Yeah… I have definitely been describing entire meals and cooking processes for sake of word count… No wonder I haven’t been feeling full since October.
Thanks, Elizabeth! I’ve been summarizing and making notes and skipping all over the place with my NaNovel. It’s so obvious, but I never thought of describing every little thing in extensive detail — I think I’ll add that to my own list for getting through the next few days!
And thank you, Feliza for the opportunity to guest post!
I like this. Face your computer screen and turn out the crap!!!
Quite how I feel! I churned out a lot of crap for NaNoWriMo, but now I have a good plot structure.