Last week’s wisdom included practical bits and pieces of advice along the lines of Nora Roberts‘ famous “Put your butt in the chair” instruction. Today, I’m sharing Swain’s advice on the psychology of production, practical help for the stalled writer. “Specifically, what’s he to do when, for some mysterious reason, he can’t get out the copy?”
Dwight Swain’s common sense advice on the psychology of production:
- Separate Creative impulse from critical judgment: “Adopt a working rule of ‘Create now…correct later.’ Promise yourself the privilege of being as critical as you like, as soon as the first draft…is completed.”
- Face up to your fears [and those of others]: Writers tend to “seek confirmation for their self-doubt in others” Professional writers face jealousy and fear of competition as “part of the price you pay.”
- Build your self-esteem: “…if you act as if you were a competent, confident, successful person…then frequently, you’ll become just that.”
- Don’t demand too much: “Skill is a thing you acquire a little at a time. It doesn’t come in a flash of magic.”
- Keep your own counsel: Talking about a story reduces your emotional need to write it and exposes you to your listener’s reaction. “You’re better off to write, not talk.”
- Follow your feelings: “Writing isn’t a logical process.” Feeling “sorts out the variables…rejects the false…catches glimpses of the larger pattern.”
- Fall back on free association: “To free associate, you merely spill out words on paper: any words at all, without regard to point or purpose.” This “cuts you loose from critical judgment.”
- Draw confidence from knowledge: The principles of craft “aren’t original with you. Generations of other writers worked them out before you…A story comes into being when desire collides with danger. Its climax centers on how your focal character behaves when faced with a choice between principle and self-interest. With the road so clearly marked, how can you go astray?”
- Soak yourself in your subject: Research the facts you need for your story to proceed. “Too often…we try to ‘think through’ something that really calls for information.”
- Incorporate present interests: Keep boredom at bay by devising ways to incorporate new ideas and fresh interests into the characterizations and plot of the story you’re writing.
- Take the bull by the horns: Start a story, even if you don’t have an idea.
- Stay with the cattle: “In some people determination, dedication, commitment–staying with the cattle, in the old range phrase–are character traits too deeply ingrained to be brushed aside easily. These are traits every writer needs. When you bog down, your best response may be simply to persevere.”
- Finish every story: “Completion of any story, however bad, is in its way implicit proof that you’re better than most people who talk of writing. Not to finish, on the other hand, conditions you to failure in advance.”
- Set up a private checklist: Keep a list of your own weaknesses and use it to help you spot errors when your story bogs down.
- Give yourself a break: “Get out among people. Have fun.”
- Avoid crutches: Like alcohol and drugs. “The smart writer sweats out his private hell without them.”
There’s so much good advice here!
When I read #3 above, I hear my friend, Rita award winner, Laura Drake, saying “Fake it, till you make it!”
And at #13, I hear multi-published hybrid author Beth Yarnall saying “You don’t know what you’re capable of until you type ‘the end’.”
And I’m a firm believer in #5. If you are stepping away from the crowd and doing something creative and different, beware the friends and family who want to steal your joy! Plus, I hate discussing my plots and ideas, because nothing really comes together until my fingers hit the keyboard.
Also beware critique groups, especially those made up of writers with perennially unfinished manuscripts, lest they muddle your muse and stall your writing.
In fact, on that note, let me add a #17 here: Learn the process that works best for you, and follow it! Do it YOUR way.
What do you think? Any disagreement, or anything to add to these words of wisdom?
Images: Book cover, Amazon; all others, Depositphotos.com