Hello guys and welcome back to Creative Zero. Today I want to discuss how to refine your writing process. Now we’ve all had Writer’s Block from time to time. You might be going through it right now, and you’re reading this post as a way to procrastinate. Well fear not you literary proletariats. In this post, not only will I deep-dive into the methods that work for me, but I’ll also explain my writing process from beginning to end—from the first draft to the final. Of course these aren’t hard set-in-stone rules, every artist works differently. In fact the bullet points I’m about to give will also include some tips that contradict each other. Therefore, use each piece of advice at your own discretion. Experiment. You don’t have to treat this like a checklist.
Problem #1: The dreaded Writer’s Block
a. Type anything. Any word that comes to mind. Then type another word. Go completely stream-of-consciousness. Words form sentences, sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs...you see where I’m getting at. Don’t judge your writing, and in fact don’t even delete what you type. Go with the flow and have faith that it’ll led to somewhere. Occasionally I find it helpful and fun to write the dumbest thing I can think of. It’s harder than you think.
b. Have a word count goal. Think about it. If you write 1000 words a day for two months, then you have the first draft of a novel.
c. Type/write down the words from a book or an author you admire. This is actually a ritual of mine because it helps me get into what I call “author mode”. Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms because he wanted to know what it felt like to write like the masters. So if there’s a book on your shelf you admire, sit down, open it up, and copy it down word for word. Consider it the warm-up before the exercise.
d. Clean your work area. A cluttered environment makes a cluttered mind.
e. Establish a theme or idea you want to explore. Love. Death. AI’s role in humanity in the future. Corruption. It’ll give you a direction to take your story.
f. Write first and give the story it’s theme later. That way you won’t get bogged down trying to figure it out on your first draft.
g. Don’t get too caught up in specific details. Look at the bigger picture. Bruce Lee said it best: “It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
h. Turn off all distractions. Mute your phone. Unplug the TV. This may also mean working early in the morning or late at night depending on your situation. Moreso, home might not be the best option either. Before COVID, I would write at a library or a coffee shop. Obviously now options are limited. But if you must...pick a nice, secluded, outdoors area and write away (be safe!)
i. Eat your veggies and exercise. A healthy body is a healthy mind.
j. Write longhand for first draft. This advice I got from David Foster Wallace from one of his interviews: “The writing writing that I do is longhand. . . . The first two or three drafts are always longhand. . . . I can type very much faster than I can write. And writing makes me slow down in a way that helps me pay attention.”
k. Write the bare bones story first. Add the detail in a later draft.
l. Write everything that comes to your mind. Cut all the fat in a later draft.
m. Don’t write in a rush. Allow yourself to be patient with the journey and being present in the now, in the typing itself. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to type not thinking than thinking to much and being anxious to get it done. Just go with the flow.
n. Never put logic over story. Logic is important, but it should never come at the cost of story quality.
Problem #2: Alright I completed my draft. Now what?
a. Sit on it. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times but it’s good advice. Preferably longer than a day, but you don’t have to wait till next year to pick it up. Find a comfortable middle ground.
b. When writing/revising, think not how you can shoehorn content in, but how the story can do without content. If the story needs the content, keep it in. If not, destroy mercilessly.
c. Set deadlines. This gives you a schedule that you must adhere to. If you want to make writing your career, you’re going to have to push yourself even when you don’t want to.
d. Don’t overcomplicate or look for meaning where there is none. Better to dive in a deep puddle than a shallow ocean.
e. Skip the boring parts. They’re not necessary. Listen to me: They. Are. Not. Necessary.
Problem #3: Forget it...I’ll never be good!
a. Don’t aim for perfection. The only perfect piece of writing is a blank page.
b. “Every real writer has had Melville’s experience. He works at the problem of Ahab and the whale...[and] he happens to read Shakespeare and some philosophy books at the same time...Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.” – John Gardner from The Art of Fiction
c. Sometimes it’s good to care, but caring too much can take the fun and the life out of your work. If the final product of what you write isn’t up to par, learn from your mistakes, dust off and try again with something else. Ideas are infinite.
d. The key to good writing is to not write like a god, but to be extremely and painfully human. Whatever that means is up to you.
There’s a lot more that I could go into, but that’ll suffice for now. If you want more then comment below.
With that out of the way, now it’s time to delve into how I write a story or piece of work from beginning to end. I usually have a four-draft approach to how I write so this’ll take some time. Also, I have a YouTube series where you get to see a version of what I’m about to show you.
Before I write, I usually take the time to write out poetry or prose from an example which piques my interest. This subreddit has a plethora of awesome examples to choose from.
First I want to establish a theme to explore. I’ve always been curious about AI and gene-editing’s role in designing superhumans. So let’s do something like that.
Alright, so let’s write a short story around 300 words. This is all off the cuff, so some of it will be trash. You have been warned:
The Piano Concert (Draft 1)
Lila was blinded by the spotlights. Only able to see the first couple rows, the rest of the audience was shrouded in darkness. She felt her NANO-implant in the back of her neck send tingly electric currents throughout her body. Her fingers floated above the piano, ready to play the concerto she penned yesterday. All eyes on her.
Her parents, wealthy artists and patrons in their own respective fields, sat in the front row holding hands. Proud of the daughter they created. To think that with the right amount of money and influence they were able to procreate their own Mozart. Peak hand dexterity. Bigger and faster neurons than the average person. Add to that the assistance of AI-assisted symbiotic technology and you got yourself quite possibly on of the world’s foremost musicians. All at the age of twelve.
Still, it didn’t mean it didn’t hurt, the isolation of being on top. Of being the best. Hearing the newsmen and the online commentators talk about the unfairness of her implants when hundreds of millions of others couldn’t even conceive of such an advantage in life. It made her feel bad to be handed this success in life, especially when she didn’t ask for it. She could shake all the hands and smile for all the photos she wanted, but at the end of the day she was only a puppet attached to the fingers of her parents who lived vicariously through her. She wondered if, god forbid something went wrong and all her implants and genetic edits were no longer a thing, if she became just a normal kid, would her mother and father still love her?
She kept the tears inside, not wanting to reveal them to an audience who didn’t pay to see them. So she kept a neutral face, letting the approval of her parents in her mind guide the fingers of the little maestro. Letting the strings guide them. Letting the strings guide them.
Okay, so we can make this work. It’s not the best iteration but that’s why it’s called the first draft.
Usually on the second draft I would give it some time to rest, then from there I’d rearrange scenes and flesh out my research and characters more via flashcards (Scrivner is excellent for sorting out large amounts of research and ideas). But this is such a short story and I’m fairly happy with how it turned out. So I’m going to sort of skip this step. This is also to keep this post from running on and on.
With that being said, I realized I forgot to add in the orchestra. Oops. I’m also not a big fan of the title. It gets the point across but it feels too generic. We’ll change that. Also, “NANO-implant”? If that isn’t the stuff of B-grade sci-fi I dunno what is. But the main thing wrong with this draft is the prose. It flows in certain areas but in others it’s clunky. Generally I aim for the simplest way to say something, but that can quickly turn to beige prose if you’re not careful. So I vary up my sentence lengths (more on that here). This is more a feel thing than it is a hard science, so use your intuition.
The following 3rd, 4th, etc. drafts are usually when I focus on the smoothness of the words. But like I said, we’re skipping a couple steps for the sake of brevity.
Let me wave my magic literary wand and...voila!
The Sonata (Draft 2)
A blinding spotlight. The crowd watching from the shadows. Lila floated her hands above the keys of a Steinway piano which stretched before her like a funeral limousine. The twelve-year-old girl waited for the conductor to wave his baton, second by second, silence after silence. A cough from the audience. Her heart thudded and her body was hot and sweaty. In her peripheral view she felt the eyes and close-lipped smiles of the orchestra saying, You don’t deserve this.
Seated in the front row holding hands were her parents, dressed in museum-quality jewelry and fabrics. Being the world class artists they were, Lila was both surprised and glad they made the rare appearance in her life. Paradoxically, it also made her all the more anxious; they paid tens of millions for her augmentations—the Design-A-Baby gene edits, the Cortech memory processor, the SuperOptic eyewear, the RapidLearner brainchip, the Newton Labs dexterity enhancer—the couple allowed no room for inefficiency. Lila wondered if they’d still love her if something took away her talent. Lila wondered if they loved her at all.
You don’t deserve this.
I’m sorry, I didn’t choose this life.
She kept the tears in and forced her face to appear as neutral as possible. The baton rose as if awoken from a deep sleep. She readied the mechanisms of her body, awaiting the baton to hit the downbeat. The orchestra, the conductor, the audience, her parents, the world, in her head this performance was for everyone but her. Lila wanted so badly not to play. However when the time came, she did what was expected of her. It was masterful, as if the piano was playing itself.
At the end she stood up from the Steinway which stretched like a funeral limousine. She bowed to the crowd applauding from the shadows. She bowed to the blinding spotlight. She bowed and she thanked them.
So what do you all think? Did you learn anything? Were you guys entertained by the story? What else would you guys like me to talk about? Feel free to comment below. And as always, I’ll see you next week!