Friday, September 23, 2011

5 Ways to Kick the Self-Editing Urge

A golden pen underlines the word NOW! on a sheet of lined paper.
Hey, you!

Yes, you.

You're a writer, right? But you never finish anything. You know you need to turn off that self-editor, but ze keeps whining at you to tweak this, prop up that, write it all off as hack writing by a bad writer. You know the answer is to write give yourself permission to write badly, but you can't or you know if you did, something would inevitably go very, very wrong with your work.

Well, if you can't finish what you started, something has already gone very, very wrong. So here are five concrete ways to kick that self-editing urge to the curb.

1) Keep sacred your writing time. Exercise your 'Just do it!' muscles on writing you don't care about at blocks of time you don't care about. At worst, you'll get experience. At most bizarre, you'll get a masterpiece. Turning waiting in the coffee line time into learning while waiting in the coffee line.

2) Get away from writing. It's easy to self-edit when all the bad or not-quite right words are sprawled in front of you. Step away from writing and compose instead: break out the voice recorder! (Most computers these days come with free software that's good enough for this exercise.) You can self edit on this, but not very much. And it's amazing what you'll say to fill the silence.

3) Be a retro-nerd! Four compound words for you: text-based free-style real-time role-playing. That's a mouthful, but all it means is: you and a writing buddy sit down at your computers, open up chats window, assign yourselves characters and tell a story that way. I recommend the gmail chat client since it time stamps the conversation after about 2 and a 1/2 minutes of silence. Use that to spurn you on. (Warning: style gets wonky with this kind of thing, since you only have control over one character.  So does the plot, since you never know what the other person will say next. But the ability to write without editing will stick.)

4) Count however you want. There are, of course, timed writing challenges. Now, if you're like me, that timer's got you rocking back and forth and biting your nails, not putting words to the page. If that's the case, get a stop watch instead: count up! See how long you can continuously add new words without deleting. Go for a new record every time, until you can do hours with ease.

5) Delete the delete. All else has failed.  You. Cannot. Stop. Editing!  All right, calm down, and literally disable your delete key. This is obviously an extreme measure but you? You're a writer.  Don't let the editor in your head overwhelm you.

I'm off to take my own advice, but first let me ask yours: do you have any methods to suggest? Any here you think you'll try?

Friday, September 16, 2011

From da Newbie to “Duh, Newbie”: Why I Probably Shouldn't Blog

For the first hour or ten on any video game I play, I suck at it. I suck hard at it. I eat turf, take laser beams up the ass, and walk off cliffs to see if they're really cliffs.

And this is why I think I shouldn't blog. (And why I should never again visit the mountains.)  Not that it's physically dangerous or that I've got a clever metaphor about getting sodomized with lasers. It's more about how I think.

I obsess with the irrelevant and the minute until I've figured out not only up from down, but cliffs from secret passages, and how stupid I'm willing to look from how stupid I will look when I run squealing after that background animal.

And then it clicks. I now have enough data and practice for my robot to wipe the floor with your ninja. The only question stupider than “Rematch?” is asking how I did it.

“Uh... the x, no the y... really both relate to the z and w in the following complex and tentatively linked ways. But that's not what does it, that's just another result... it's more like. Think about v. And u. You'll get it.”

I can't use what I've learned in a meaningful manner until I've built it up so far from the foundation it's unrecognizable. And opaque, so I can’t look back on all the little ins and outs I’ve learned. I flip from the new kid to the old hat in the space of a few seconds and in that moment all the lessons I've built up into skills are hidden from me. I can make vague gestures at where each one went, but I can't remember how it all came together.

This is also what makes me terrible at understanding and writing they dynamics of human relationships. But that's a lot of what writing is, and if I know anything it’s that I want to write.  So here's to walking off of cliffs and hoping the worst that happens is I smash my nose on the force-field barrier.

Can you just crash through, learn as you go? Or do you have to build the big picture out of the pieces?