Embracing the Writing Process

by ninjapitka

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Endless worlds are before you, limited only by your imagination and willpower. Like a surge of electricity, an idea for a story zaps into your mind. The idea is perfect; the setting is immersive. You can clearly picture the characters, their arc, maybe a spicy twist or two and...it drifts away, dancing just outside your fingertips. How can that be? Ideas, like passing thoughts, are fluid and only take shape if you intentionally work through its entirety. This requires discipline, focus, and a willingness to embrace the grind.

In a way, it's a lot like setting a goal. In fact, it's exactly that. The chances of you succeeding exponentially increase if you list specific tasks or steps needed in order to achieve the goal. Take weight loss, for example. Anyone can say "I want to lose 10 pounds," something that is extremely measurable by the way. The person who measures their caloric intake, schedules their workouts, and sticks to the plan, is far more likely to actually lose 10 pounds.

Transitioning back to writing, not every project comes with a motivator such as an impending contest deadline. There's nothing quite like the fear of public SHAME as motivation, besides maybe a drill sergeant who woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

A lot of people sign up on CYS because they read a fantasy epic, and it stirs within them a desire, no, a need to create their own. What happens? They bite off more than they can chew, fail miserably, shit post on the Forums, and get whacked with the banhammer. It's like they simply expect to sit down and write, like it's easy or something. Great authors on the site make it seem easy since we only see their finished product; we don't see the countless hours of work behind the story.

It's in that place where you must learn to live as a writer. I hate to spoil the false perception you may have of writing (actually I don't), but the process often feels like trudging through mud wearing your finest clothes; you need to force yourself to keep going, and there's also a strange tendency to hold back, like you're afraid of getting dirty and putting the wrong words on the page. Sometimes it's best to keep the faucet open in order to flush out all the junk. Once the flow begins, eventually drinkable water will appear, and drink it up, they will.

So how do you get from big idea to finished product? Lots of time, and lots of effort. So much, in fact, that you can't solely rely on entertainment and inspiration to carry you through. It requires devotion, and it requires discipline.

First, there's a level of introspection that must occur. You need to study yourself as if you're the subject of an experiment. What are your tendencies? Besides Discord, what draws your attention away from writing? Notice the setting and circumstances around a good writing session. Take in your surroundings, background music, time of day, substances in your body, mood, hunger levels -- tiny details can make a huge impact in whether you progress a story, stare endlessly at a blinking cursor, or lose focus and quit.

Of course, you can only determine these factors if you actually sit down and write, so I encourage you to experiment with different settings until you find the one that works best. I, personally, have found that I write best earlier in the day, on my laptop (opposed to my desktop), in a Word doc, and with a full cup of coffee. Once you determine factors that aid or hinder your writing, then you can simply calibrate as necessary to create the perfect environment every session.

Alright. Enough hand holding. Time to get into the nitty-gritty, the section where you chomp down on your mouthpiece, lower your chin, and keep swinging. If you wait for moments of inspiration to be the driving force behind writing a story, you're in for a tough time. Likely, you'll end up giving up since magical moments are few and far between, unless you're stockpiling hallucinogens (in my experience, enough caffeine can have the same effect).

Without the threat of contest SHAME, you need another motivator, something like a self-imposed deadline with accountability from a WIP thread or close friend. Often, I find voicing your goal will materialize your project into something real. There's nothing quite like the embarrassment of sharing your undisciplined, unmotivated character if no progress has been made since the last time someone asked.

Treat your project like a competition. If you're in a contest, that's easy because it is a competition. You have the usernames and avatars of each contestant posted on your wall for you to stare pure, unadulterated hatred into. If you're working on a side project, even better. Your competition is the entire site as well as your past self. I'm willing to bet we all have some truly cringe-worthy pieces saved in a folder no one but ourselves can access. Hey, everyone starts somewhere. In order to improve, it's necessary to look at your past self, almost with disdain, and strive to become better.

Some of you may not be competition-driven. That's ok. We're all in the business of self-improvement, and the store never closes. Assuming you're here because you either like writing, or at the very least, are interesting in writing, I probably don't need to tell you why a creative outlet revolving around sentence structure, story idea, and message delivery is a positive thing. Do I?

You have your story idea, ideal writing environment, and a desire to crush your competition...or simply to improve your own talent. All that's left is to sit down and write (unless your ideal environment requires standing). My only suggestion is this: be consistent. Set aside one block of time per day to visit your story, especially during the week. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to keep the idea fresh in your mind. It's very likely that too much time in-between writing sessions can make the setting or characters feel unfamiliar. Then, the time when you should be writing is delayed by reorienting yourself with the story -- if that takes too long, then you run the risk of frustration-led quitting as you've probably spent minutes staring at a blinking cursor and blank white screen.

I've had hour-long writing blocks where I've managed to put down 100 words or so. It's painful; it feels like slamming your forehead into a brick wall. Eventually, though, you break through, and through the head-sized hole in the wall, you catch a glimpse of the endless possibilities ahead of you. If I, someone who's never written before, can publish five storygames, three of which are featured, win a contest, publish an article, and write a high number of reviews, while working seven days a week, full-time, two jobs, getting personal certifications on the side all in a year's time, mind you, then you can do it too. And yes, I still have time to play video games.

It's in the writing process, wrestling with ideas, developing characters, and building worlds where you must learn to live. Hitting that "publish" button doesn't automatically draw hundreds of readers to your work, desperately clawing for a featured comment spot. Sometimes you press the button and your list of comments is a barren wasteland. Don't take it personally. Don't let your self-esteem and emotional mindset be affected by random people online with usernames such as Dave12345. Write for your own sake. Write for the fun of it. Write because you're on the journey of self-improvement.