Why Do Writers Seek Validation Outside Ourselves?
When you write, do you become paralyzed listening to your critique partner's, your beta readers', your editor's advice? Do you scour the Internet for "how to" advice on writing? Then you try the how-to instead of writing? It doesn't work, so you don't write, or you polish a paragraph until it screams, while the rest of your novel goes unfinished?
You repeat these negative patterns, over and over and over, imagining you've got all the time in the world to build a writing career. No one's watching: I'll spend the day polishing this sentence if I want to.
Why? Why do we look outside ourselves for ways to overcome our fear of accepting ourselves as we are and simply letting go and then writing? There are more reasons than time here, but in The 7 Deadly Fears of Writing, explained on menwithpens.com, a few are mentioned. They include:
- Exposing Yourself
- Only One Book
- Too Old to Write
- Fear of Research
There are, in addition to the infinite blog posts on this subject, books and doctoral dissertations ad infinitum. I'm not implying you shouldn't try to discover new or better processes for writing. Au contraire. Part of my journey to becoming a better writer has been looking at all the how-to advice out there, and then choosing what works for me.
Are You a Fearful Writer?
I used to be so anal that I'd clench up when I sat down to write a new scene. I'd spend days applying a new piece of how-to advice to every scene I wrote, but then--after I'd spent a year writing my novel--I'd decide: it's not good enough. Worse, I'd shop my gem at writing conferences trolled by agents looking for emerging authors, then I'd go apoplectic if they didn't seem to love it. I'd sapped my creative spirit for a year, after all, and I'd done precisely what the latest how-to said I should. Why wasn't anyone wanting my novel?
Let Go: Write Fearlessly?
In Writing Fearlessly: An Exercise in Letting Go, Nanci Panuccio provides advice she gained from F. Scott Fitzgerald. "The more vulnerable we allow ourselves to be on the page, the more universal we are."
What does it mean to allow ourselves to be vulnerable on the page?
Great question. For me, it's much deeper than being vulnerable only on the page. I had to re-evaluate my whole writer's ethic. Where was my "vulnerability" hiding? Why couldn't I let myself go and be totally honest with readers--and with myself? What was hiding inside my creative spirit blocking me?
Oooooooo! Those are tough questions, aren't they? Let's return to Men with Pens and the 7 Deadly Fears. Yes, there's fear of rejection, of exposing ourselves on the page. There's also the fear that what we write will be deemed inadequate (where in hell does that come from?) by readers.
If you and I stop and think about it, there's a whole world of fear buried inside us. It keeps us from being vulnerable with readers. Show me a writer who denies this: I'll show you a liar. Basically, however, if we could marry Men with Pens to Nanci Panuccio, we'd be on to something. Let's couple our fear with our crippling need to let go and be vulnerable. To write. To listen to our muse. Then let's get to the bottom line: how do we let go and write fearlessly?
I disagree with just about everyone on "how" this is to be done. Panuccio says, "Free associate." And further, "Don't judge what comes up on the page. Don't control it. Don't worry about chronology, or even if scenes and fragments relate in any way. Allow emotional significance to dictate what flows onto the page. Trust it."
That works for a brainstorming session, but when we get down to writing several novels a year, I don't see that working, not even for a first draft. The issue is time. There's no time to go back and revise several hundred--or thousand--pages of "free-write."
It's not just time, either, that prevents professional fiction writers from free-writing. I'm going way-way out on a limb here, but hey! it's my limb. I'm owning it. Readers love us--if we're lucky--but they're reading for narcissistic reasons. Pleasure. To connect with a favorite character. To Relax. Who knows? They're not worrying about whether or not we've shrank ourselves enough to be "vulnerable" on the page. If we are, they'll pick that up, anyway. If we're not: same deal. They'll know. What they're doing is looking out for number one: themselves and their interests as readers.
Build Your Pitcher, Then Pour Yourself In
This is the part where I offer you--tough love. Fiction writing is the toughest gig on this planet. You're competing with the best--and worst authors--on Amazon, the clock's ticking, and readers are jumping from book-to-book like fleas on a dog's back. So you better build a pitcher, i.e., a scene (or chapter or plot), into which you can expertly pour your words--and emotion--without having to go back and revise extensively.
There's myriad ways to construct your pitcher, metaphorically speaking, your scene or chapter, so pick what works for you and then own it. Once you've got your pitcher, pour your soul into it. Ignore everyone. Everyone. This, again, isn't an invitation to free-write. Within the structure of a scene, you can free your voice and pour with abandon. Make no mistake, however, even the pantsers know you've got to have a vessel to fill before you can let go and write like the crazy gifted mad woman you truly are.
I'll be demonstrating my "structure and pour" how-to in an upcoming workshop at the Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia Writers (KYOWA) in Russell, Kentucky on April 29, 20176. Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/Kentucky-Ohio-West-Virginia-Writers-126278390751471/. I'll offer a free PowerPoint and PDF version of my "how to" workshop on freeing your inner voice and adding suspense to your work. To get your copy, find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MaryMcFarlandWriter and message me.