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Writing For Idiots!

Friday Wrap-Up: Writing For Idiots!

There you are, you Empty Page. I face you now, typing fingers drawn ready to scribble you into the oblivion from whence you came.  How you mock me with your smug, white face, your glowering screensaver, your dubious perspicacity. I have no f#@king idea what that means, but you’ll take it, oh yes you will. Here is what I know about writing that will raze your vacant castle of ignominy to the ground.

1.  I will write a shitty first draft.  The shittier the better. Just ask Stephen King, he does it. No one will see this quagmire of defecation but you and I. And while you will scorn me for besmirching your pristine white fields with my excrement, you will have to submit because you are passive.  Inanimate. Your opinion doesn’t count. And the only way to get to the good writing is through the manure.

2.  I will write a better second draft. Only incrementally better, mind you, but the turds will begin to float. This will give me the confidence to write a third, fourth and fifth draft, peeling away the extraneous husk down to the kernel of the story I want to tell. I may find the kernel first, or the kernel may find me. Occasionally we find ourselves simultaneously and that is a glorious thing. Sometimes we never find each other at all. But I don’t worry about that now. I’m trying to suck, not be brilliant.

3.  Next I will break my story into pieces and polish. One paragraph at a time. I will not bite off more than I can chew and become overwhelmed. I’ll decide to work methodically, carefully, with the precision of a surgeon removing a retina. I will jolly myself along. When I think the piece is done…

4.  I will set it aside: It’ll need to marinate before it can be devoured. And no matter how you try to shake my words off, you will be incapable.  You will be indelibly marked by my Effort. And my Effort is indeed a Pearl of Great Price, you bastard.

While my work marinates …

5.  I will read great writers. I won’t worry that they’re better writers than me. Because I know, through osmosis, they will make me a better writer and that’s all I can hope for. Here are some lines from a much better writer than me…David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest (which I am not so much reading as chipping away at…):

“I can picture deLint and White sitting with their elbows on their knees in the defecatory posture of all athletes at rest…”

(you see this follows my shit leitmotif?)

or

“”And who could not love that special and leonine roar of a public toilet?”

or

“The sun is a hammer.”

As I read Wallace, Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, Ayn Rand, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, John Fante, Jennifer Egan and so on, I become a better writer. It doesn’t matter if I’m better or worse than any other writer. It only matters that I write. And I believe anyone can write.

Even you. Next…

6.  I will read my piece with the fresh perspective time provides. I will either think it doesn’t work, but often when this happens I realize a new way to make it work. Or I will marvel at the piece and be surprised that it was me who wrote it as it will seem like the work of a much better writer.

Empty Page how I hate you, because you do frighten me sometimes. But I love you equally because you hold the promise of risk-taking adventure and, in your finest moments, a conduit to The Divine.


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How to writewriting for idiots.

17 comments

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  1. Deborah Stambler
    Deborah Stambler 20 January, 2012, 13:20

    Perspicacious is my 12 year old’s favorite word. She’s even tossed it around the school yard to fend off would-be hooligans. But she can be odd sometimes. It’s part of why we love her. So I love encountering the word perspicacity in your post.

    I’m passing this post on to a couple of writer friends. God it takes tenacity to write.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon Colleary
      Shannon Colleary 20 January, 2012, 13:37

      I totally used perspicacious out of context. And yes writing takes tenacity. And just a dollop of narcissism. Not that I have any.

      Reply this comment
  2. Desiree Eaglin
    Desiree Eaglin 20 January, 2012, 15:12

    I can’t do drafts, once I’m done writing it I have to shove it out of my face like an over-indulged meal. I get sick of it actually!
    This was clever and fun to read. Thank you!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 January, 2012, 15:31

      Hi Desiree — I hate writing drafts too. I thought if it wasn’t brilliant the first time around it should just be chucked. Then I was forced to do rewrites for my screenwriting gigs and found I could actually make the script so much better over time (don’t get me wrong, I still hated taking notes from the studio – I felt a bit like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News – like it was exhausting to be the most intelligent person in the room — years of humiliation disabused me of that notion)

      Reply this comment
  3. Megan
    Megan 20 January, 2012, 15:15

    Second, third fourth drafts. Yes. I ramble, and have to go back and find the pieces that actually still relate to my post. But in my rambling is where i find the gems. Moral of the story, write write write. Great post.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 January, 2012, 15:33

      Thanks Megan. I love the vomit draft where you let it all flow. A lot of people prefer to outline before beginning and occasionally that works best for me too, depending on the length of the piece. But other times I just want to write in a stream-of-consciousness manner in the hopes something good will emerge.

      Reply this comment
  4. Jamie
    Jamie 20 January, 2012, 19:33

    You have no idea how helpful this is…not that I’m going to do any of it…but if someone put a gun to my head and told me that I needed to give them some awesome well-written content I would have an idea how to go about that. You may have saved my life.

    I tend to only do step 1 in your process, “write a shitty first draft.” Then I publish it. A lot of the time I will catch mistakes throughout the day and correct them. So, if anyone is going on my site multiple times a day (doubtful) they will see my post changing! LOL

    I hate writing, it is ironic I love my blog so much.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 January, 2012, 23:47

      You don’t hate writing, you write passionately, humorously and well. I hate that your shitty first draft is so good!

      Reply this comment
  5. Caryn B
    Caryn B 20 January, 2012, 23:44

    You are amazing….an incredible writer…

    And yes, how I both love and detest a blank page…

    Reply this comment
  6. Debbie
    Debbie 2 February, 2012, 06:01

    I want to thank you for posting this. I’m sitting here crying, because someone else feels the way I do about writing. I’m constantly comparing myself to much better writers. Why couldn’t I have come up with this?’ is usually my first reaction after reading something truly genius. It was my first reaction when I read this entry. I disregard the fact that I haven’t been writing long and that the bloggers, writers, authors I look up to have gained much more experience in life through living. Experience that i still need to develop, by embracing life and my flaws.

    Again, thank you for a wonderful post.
    I’m new to the blog, found you today. I’m so happy I did.
    Stay well
    Debbie

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 2 February, 2012, 10:00

      Hi Debbie — thank you for the comment. Lately my younger daughter Bridget has been wanting to give up piano because her older sister is better at it. I was trying to make her feel better by explaining that Clare is two years older and has more developed manual dexterity and her brain is larger at this point etc etc. And Bridget just looked at me with her poker face and said, “Mom, just admit it, me and Clare started piano at the same time and she’s better than me.” She didn’t want platitudes. So I told her that yes, Clare is more advanced, but that Bridget has her own relationship to the piano and that should be separate from Clare’s. That she shouldn’t give it up just because her sister is better. For some reason she feel better. We decided to switch her lesson day so she doesn’t have to go right after Clare, so she can just have her own lesson. I think I gave her pretty good advice, but I often forget to give it to myself.

      Reply this comment
  7. Eren
    Eren 3 February, 2012, 06:42

    Congratulations on winning the grand prize for your OC Blogger Bash post! Nice work!! I won a lot that night too but wished for plane tickets! :)Elle @ SeeMomWorkBlog.com

    Reply this comment
  8. Joy Page Manuel
    Joy Page Manuel 27 June, 2014, 12:45

    A conduit to The Divine…I like that idea! I guess no matter how shitty it turns out, what we write is a part of us and yes, I’d like to believe that we have the Divine in all of us. Or am I over-interpreting this? LOL! Regardless, thanks for the tips and the inspiration! I’m currently being mocked (with such might, if I may so so) by this white nothingness. *sigh*

    Reply this comment
  9. Joy Page Manuel
    Joy Page Manuel 27 June, 2014, 12:46

    sorry for the typo…. I meant to say (if I may SAY so)

    Reply this comment
  10. jennydecki
    jennydecki 27 June, 2014, 19:04

    If I set something aside for more than a week I will find it and not know who wrote it. It’s very disorienting. It also sounds like total b.s. when you tell others you can’t recognize your own writing.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 28 June, 2014, 21:44

      Jenny I know exactly what you mean. I’ll leave myself a note sometimes, then find it days later and not know what the heck it is. Of course that could just be the Quualudes talkin’.

      Reply this comment

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