Writing Blues

Rabbit - angryI’ve read a few posts about the writing blues of late.  There must be something in the air.  Or the water.  Or maybe it’s all this hot weather (or extreme cold if you’re in the northern hemisphere).  Anyway, it made me realise that the last time I blogged about the ever present writing critic (the little guy* that sits on your shoulder telling you your work isn’t good enough), I didn’t talk much about how I battle him.  In fact, I wasn’t really sure how I did until I consciously thought of doing this post.

I realised I have developed a few methods over the past years in fighting the writing critic (which for me are most relevant when writing the first draft):

  1. Hemmingway: Still my most effective method is throwing Hemmingway’s quote at him (which I did talk about last post).  Hemmingway said that ‘All first drafts are shit’.  So when my writing critic starts having a go at me during a first draft, I use this quote to tame him, ie. I tell him it doesn’t matter if the writing is bad, because it’s just a first draft and can be fixed in the next one.  In the second draft I tell him any problems he’s throwing at me can be fixed in the third, and so on.  I find it shuts him up pretty quickly and allows me to keep writing.
  2. Don’t re-read: When I first start working on a draft, I’m always tempted to go back and read what I wrote the previous day.  Problem with this is that it slows me down long enough for my writing critic to start up.  Re-reading can often awaken my self-doubt and make it harder to start up again.  At most I allow myself to read the last paragraph if I need to reorient myself to the scene.  Once I’m a few thousand words into a draft, the urge to re-read disappears anyway, as I become lost in the flow of the story.
  3. Write fast: This technique I learnt in a workshop with Sarah Armstrong.  Free writing is a technique used by many writers, especially in the first draft, and is basically writing fast enough to override conscious thought and is about just getting the words down on the page.  The great side effect is that you also write too fast for the writing critic to catch-up.  Mine doesn’t have a chance to intrude while I’m free writing.
  4. Daydream: This is something I’ve discovered I cannot do without when aiming to write every day.  And the big benefit – it takes away the fear of the blank screen / page.  Each day, before sitting down to write, I need to have let the story and characters roll around in my head.  This is often while at the gym, cleaning, or in the shower.  Times when your body is engaged, but your mind is left to wander.  It doesn’t always happen automatically – sometimes when really busy I have to make myself consciously think about it, otherwise I just end up thinking about the shopping list or the million other things I need to be doing.  Once you have let the next scene unroll in your head, sitting down to write wont be so frightening and the writing critic is less likely to kick in.  I find the characters have already told me what happens next.
  5. Chocolate: Drown him out with chocolate.  Or peanut butter toast.  Or ice-cream if I’m feeling really naughty.  Mint choc-chip, if you must know.  On second thoughts, this might not really help.  It’s sort of a last resort.  But it sure makes me feel better.

The journey of writing can be tough, but it’s also exciting, exhilarating, liberating and wonderful.  I’m forever learning and I bet in a year’s time I’ll be able to add to this list.  No doubt others have different methods of fighting their critic.  Or a favourite guilty snack.  Care to share?

* By the way, any guys reading this: I’m sorry that I refer to my writing critic as a ‘he’ – mine is a he, but not all of them are!  Nor am I making a comment about men!

10 Responses to “Writing Blues”

  1. 1 Julie Nickerson February 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    What do you mean – chocolate “might not really help”?? Chocolate helps EVERYTHING! Otherwise, yes, I’m with Hemingway.

  2. 2 lawrenceez February 6, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I agree about not re-reading the draft until it’s finished. However, its okay for a writer to delay printing a section -for instance, a section of dialogue – until they’ve had chance to read it again a day or two later. I think it’s a case of striking a balance between writing fast and making sure the material doesn’t lose focus. I’ve written several articles about creative writing on my blog (lawrenceez.wordpress.com). One of these deals with keeping a log of the relevant story questions during the writing process.

    All the best with your writing and blogging.

  3. 3 dianecurran February 6, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Love all your points. you sound very similar to me. Nothing helps a first draft more than chocolate.

    Have you tried Write or Die? http://www.lab.drwicked.com – it’s fabulous to get you writing fast.

    Good luck!

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby February 6, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Lawrence – I find recording story / character questions useful also. And I can only use the write-fast method because I have so far always known the ending of my novel before I begin, and therefore know where I’m heading. Otherwise you are right – I would get too off track! I also tend to use first draft as more of an exploratory phase, and do a complete re-write in draft two once I know what my story is really about. I look forward to reading through your blog.

    And Diane I know of write or die, but haven’t tried it yet – even as someone who likes to write fast, the concept slightly terrifies me! A great tool though :) As is chocolate!

  5. 5 nhac February 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

    it’s interesting to read about the way that other people’s minds work when they’re writing. especially since the medium is somewhat different. the way it works for me is that i’ll write some music (and sometimes lyrics) and then sit down and record it. if there’s no lyrics, when the music’s done i’ll sit down and arrange the lyrics over what i’d just recorded. i’ll do a little mixing and polishing to make it sound a bit better and then bounce that out to an mp3 i can listen to or upload to share.

    my inner critic usually doesn’t come until the next time i listen to the song. that’ll usually end up being the next day or so. then i listen to my voice and go ‘ooh …. ooh .. shit. sorry.’

    the thing with recording is that it takes you to a place of intense concentration. milliseconds become relevant. the level of detail that you absorb about a song, every reverb, every delay, every echo effect, you hear it all individually. but others don’t hear it like that. the real truth of it is that as musicians we have no idea what our work sounds like to regular people. my work is a never-ending battle between what i can hear on the recording and what i guess that other people hear.

  6. 6 Katherine Battersby February 8, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Hi nhac (or Chris undercover)

    It’s fascinating to hear how you produce your music. I’m intrigued by the fact that even within different mediums, there is overlap in parts of the creative process. I think all creative people have an inner-critic to fight – the trouble with writing a novel is that it often kicks in after only a few hundred words, and you might have another 30,000 or 100,000 to try to get through! (which is why I’ve had to develop such a swathe of techniques)

    I was really intrigued to hear how you become very absorbed by the minutiae of each millisecond. I can imagine that you would spend days/weeks/months creating something complexly textured and multi-layered and beautiful, and yet the everyday listener might only hear 20% of what you’ve done. I think writing can be like that too. We might spend an hour on a single paragraph, playing with individual words and rhythms etc. I suppose you too would often need others to listen to your work to get a fresh ear – I know I get too close to my own writing to understand how others will experience it.

  7. 7 Sheryl Gwyther February 15, 2009 at 9:41 am

    They sure ring a bell with me too, Kath.
    The one I have the most trouble with is re-reading and rewriting over what I’ve written for the first draft instead of ‘fast writing’.
    Sometimes it helps me get going again to do that but sometimes, because I love the rewriting and editing bit so much I get sidetracked – it’s so much easier than doing the first draft. Which is why I do it, I suppose.

  8. 8 Katherine Battersby February 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I hear you, Sheryl. That’s why I try not to do it – editing can feel easier than getting through the first draft! Anything that slows me down threatens to keep me from writing the first draft, and then nasty self-doubt creeps in. It’s a constant battle, isn’t it?!

  9. 9 Madeline Stephenson March 24, 2009 at 6:48 am

    This was a fascinating post. I have to agree with everyone at least a little bit. I think I am going to frame Hemmingway’s quote for my office. I like the idea of talking back to my inner critic (always a girl–much cattier!). I also think it helps to define my critic’s personality a bit–not that I want to have multiple personalities–because outside voices tend to influence me less than my own. If I think of my critic as “me” instead of “she” I am much less likely to fight against her. Strange how our minds work.
    As for the intense concentration that Chris talks about, this comes, for me, when I either know exactly where my story is going and I am writing as it is all playing out in my head, or when I am editing. I think, Kath, this is why I enjoy editing so much. The story is all right there so all I have to do is live in it and perfect it as I do. I’ve decided my biggest problem with writing my novel is my lack of planning. Perhaps I’m not a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” writer after all.
    As for Diane’s suggestion…I’ll keep that in mind.
    And as for chocolate, well, I could tell stories. :)

  10. 10 Katherine Battersby March 26, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Mady, I think defining your writing critic as separate to your inner voice is really important. I hadn’t though about it like that, but you’re right – it certainly does help to fight it.

    I know up my weakness has also been a lack of planning. I think that’s partly why they say it often takes 3 or 4 novels before you’ll write one that’s publishable. The more I write, the more I plan and make plot decisions before I start that first draft. And my mentor had taught me that planning doesn’t take away that wonderful sense of discovery while writing!

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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