“Journalism: an ability to meet the challenge of filling the space.” – Rebecca West, Born Dec. 21, 1892.
The hardest part about writing is the writing. Having ideas is easy. Everyone has ideas. But not everyone writes.
I mean, most people CAN “write” – in the sense that they are literate. But most people can't WRITE. And write. And write.
It's work. It's a grind. Scribbling or typing or dictating – for hours and hours while your brain runs hot, creating the next sentence just ahead of the cursor.
Once, Harlan Ellison famously set up shop with his typewriter in a bookstore display window, and wrote for eight hours straight, in view of passersby. The idea being, he wanted to demonstrate that writing was WORK.
So here is some practical advice, if you think you would like to write professionally, even on the side.
Build up your chops.
Take a Saturday, or spend a late evening. Just write. Continuously. For hours. About whatever. It doesn't matter. Make it up as you go. Don't do anything else. Have a beverage close by. Don't take breaks. Don't stop to think for more than a few seconds.
Write and write and write. One word after another. One sentence after the next. Paragraph after paragraph.
It might be trash, content wise. That's not the point of the exercise. The point is to get good at the WORK part.
So that when you get those good ideas like everyone does, you have the physical capability of tippity tapping that idea into reality with your writing.
The more you do it, the better you get. Faster. Easier. You'll be in “writing shape” and even random musings will be a cut above what a non-writer could come up with.
But most importantly, where non-writers would be finger-cramped and brain-fried, you are a well oiled machine, humming along as the pages practically fill themselves.
And being able to “fill the page” is an incredibly valuable skill to have when the cards are down and deadlines are looming and you have to crank out a miracle.
<!—- lagniappe So look, the above advice is great to just get your physical skill at writing up. To prove you can do it, it doesn’t matter what you write - it doesn’t even need to be edited. It shouldn’t be gibberish, but you can write about how writing is hard, and what it feels like to be stuck, and why you want to do it and blah blah blah. But this little extra bit is about what comes next. How to harness that ability to crank and churn so that you can produce usable work. 1. Start with a point. An idea. A topic where you have something to say. 2. Take that main point and figure out WHY it needs to be said. Are other people wrong about it? Is it uncommon knowledge? If you’re re-treading a well-worn path, are you at least framing it around your personal experience to make it unique? 3. Now plan a structure. Just like in grade school when they teach you to write an essay for class. Break it up by paragraph. Then break it up by sentence. Frame it with an intro and an outro - hey, kind of like some emails you might read sometimes. 4. Now just sit down and write it. 5. Did you get stuck? Move to the next section and keep going. Finished all sections and have one that’s still stuck? Go back to planning mode and break it apart even further. Add more sentences. Add another paragraph if needed. The point is to use the overall plan to PREVENT halting all progress when you hit a roadblock. You can coast past it, then come back to it after. Write to the end before you circle back. That’s it. That’s my simplest, best advice. First, figure out if you can write and not hate it. After that, the game is finishing everything you start, and publishing it - otherwise, what’s the point? —->
5 thoughts on “Most Wannabe Writers Lack the Muscle to Reach Page Two”
Man, I'm glad you mentioned HE. Yeah, he was of an era when artists had to produce a lot of good, quality writing. My favorite YouTube video is "Pay the Writer". If you haven't seen it you are really missing a great rant. Thanks for another great post.
Met him in person once at DragonCon where he was a guest but I bumped into him on the comic book show floor and he was shopping. So I just thanked him kindly for the entertainment, shook his hand and walked away. Right after me, someone else grabs him and does the Wayne’s World “NOT WORTHY” bow thing and tries to get him to sign something or other. And I got to witness a classic Harlan rant in person. “DO YOU SEE A PEN IN MY HAND? AM I AT A LITTLE TABLE WITH MY NAME ON A CARD? NO, BECAUSE THAT WAS AN HOUR AGO! THERE WAS A LINE, AND BROTHER, IT WAS LONG! NOW FUGGOFF, I’M TRYING TO BUY GREEN LANTERN COMICS!”
Thanks a ton, Colin! This is such a great idea. And I think it can be applied to other activities as well such as meditation, drawing, marketing, etc.
Funny you say that. It’s actually something I ported over to writing from my past as an art student. 🙂
When I first saw this subject line, I wondered if this post (email, in my case) was a challenge: would I be able to read to the second page.
Little did I know that the "challenge," so to speak, would be to write…and write and write.
Anyway, I have to get back to work, which involves writing (or rather, re-writing).