When Writing Can Damage Your Writing

WritingJessSmartSmiley

Where Ideas Come From

More than anything, this is a note to self. I’m been trying to be more “present” and take advantage of moments, rather than size up everything I experience and weigh it against my long-term goals. Of course I have no intention of throwing away my long-term goals, but I’ve lived too long with with just the end in sight and it’s put me in a state of mind where I’m not living in the present, and I’m not living in the future. I’ve resigned myself to limbo and it’s time to move on.

I want to learn the very best in writing tools and techniques, but there comes a point where writing becomes damaging. Think about the books, movies and stories you love. They came from someplace. Not just from great ideas that the author thought up, but from things that they have experienced in life. From conversations with friends, anger with their parents or siblings, the death of a loved one, school, work, vacations, etc. Stories can be just as much of a reaction, commentary, catharsis, or escape as they are a book or a movie.

Stories come from a combination of life experiences and writing know-how, and there comes a point when writing can be more damaging to your work than good. I know the hunger that comes with wanting to know and learn more, and it can be addicting, like a writer’s high. There’s a time and a place for focusing only on writing, but I’m starting to learn a little bit more about the creative process and how it works.

WritingMuscleJessSmartSmiley

The Writing Muscle

Imagine that the parts of your brain used for writing are a single muscle. Muscles cannot be lengthened or moved, but they can grow and become stronger. When building stronger biceps, for example, the bulk of building comes from resting the muscle during a period of recovery. When the muscles have been pushed to new heights and are allowed to rest, the tissues begin to tear and rebuild stronger muscles.

How many times do we hear stories of authors that have their big breakthroughs come to them during a morning shower, or a trip to the restroom? I know that I’ve gotten some of my favorite ideas while I was out walking, or riding my bike, or talking with friends. There’s really something to be said about the time between writing. It gives our minds a chance to let ideas settle and fall into place.

TimeBetweenWritingJessSmartSmiley

The Time Between Writing

My natural inclination is to just keep pushing until I get the results I want. In my writing, I want to write through whatever my writing problems might be, until I arrive at a brilliant solution; but, unless I am living life in between my writing, then I’ll most likely stay stuck for a while.

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Comments
4 Responses to “When Writing Can Damage Your Writing”
  1. loz says:

    This is great Jess. I remember Steve Gibson in one of the first classes I took with him. He stood at the front of the class and asked, how many of us were writers. One person , pen in hand, doodling as he spoke, said “I am.” He was, but none of the rest of us were. His point was that none of us are writers unless we are actually writing. At the time I didn’t really like that statement, and this post is the reason why. It’s not only the times that you are actually writing, that you are a writer. It’s every waking moment when you are not writing, formulating, synthesizing, living, accruing knowledge and experience and working out your imaginary worlds while inhabiting the real one.

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Thanks, Loran. Yeah, there’s definitely a time when a writer just needs to eat, sleep and write, but it can be really unhealthy for the work if it drags on too long.

      I think that some of the stiffer and more apathetic works I’ve read have come from authors who are so focused on technique that they forget to use a subject worth writing about. There isn’t anything compelling about the characters or plot, and I can’t help but wonder if they’ve spent too much time writing.

  2. RoosterTree says:

    Agreed! An extension of this idea is that, once finished, it is extremely helpful to let the new finished piece of writing sit for a time – days, weeks, even months for some – in order to get some distance & life experience, in order to attack the next draft with fresh eyes/sensibilities.

    • Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Yes! Thank you, RoosterTree – that’s a great point. I typically do a little project hopping, where I’ll work on one story to break from the other, and then jump back again, but there’s always a true break from writing, where I “stop” (as much as one can) and fix the sink.

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