Writing Fears: Doing it “bad” and being relatable

I go into certain weekends telling myself they will be designated for writing. Sometimes it happens, but most often it doesn’t. Since I’m on a spending freeze and it’s freezing outside, I once again told myself that this weekend there would be major writing magic happening in my 500-sq foot perch above the streets of Chicago.

I worked on some odds and ends last night and continued this morning, but I’m facing a problem common to many writers – the fear of writing “bad”. Even though I know these drafts are private as long as I need them to be, and there’s a handy thing on the end of my pencil called an eraser, the fear of not writing down exactly what I want to say the first time is paralyzing. It makes me get up from my notebook or computer and grab another cup of coffee, or convince myself it’s time to take a shower, or practice the guitar.

I follow a fellow WordPress blogger who lives in Romania and writes beautiful fiction, but occasionally he’ll post insightful quotes from some of the best writers the world has ever known.

This morning he posted the following quotes on his blog:

Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. Neil Gaiman

Similar to Shenk’s quote, Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I think of this often, but also recognize where my relatively meager writing process differs. I’ve found through past experience that, generally-speaking, my first drafts hit close to the concepts and ideas I want to communicate, and major re-writes usually result in a weaker version of what I originally had. Hemingway wrote 40+ different endings for a “Farewell to Arms” before deciding on one, and even though I’m someone who seeks out rules and guidelines, I’ve realized imitating the creative process of an established author can snuff out my own ability to create.

The second quote, by Neil Gaiman, also touches on a current struggle I’m having with a larger piece of fiction. I want the story to be relatable because it’s based on actual events, so I started keeping out memories that are unique to me. Just writing that sentence now made me realize this approach is ridiculous and most likely detrimental to the story. I’m paraphrasing here, but Ernest Hemingway says to “write what you know.” That’s where the best stuff comes from.

The following is a memory of mine I included in the story but can’t guarantee is shared by those people who are in it. Despite this, it was a pleasure to write and hopefully it still captures a feeling any reader can relate to:

“There was a short, circular tree on the west side of the porch with thick, sturdy limbs that were still small enough to grab onto. One branch extended from about a foot above the base of the trunk and split into two limbs, creating a “v” shape that was meant for sitting. It was the perfect height above the ground for a kid that was just of the age to start climbing trees and receive the maximum amount of enjoyment out of it. The leaves of the tree gave the tree-sitter a feeling of invisibility, like when an ostrich thinks it’s hiding by sticking its head in the ground. There was another tree just on the other side of the stone slabs leading up to the porch, but the limbs on this tree were jagged and menacing. The branches of the other tree were just right, and over the years the notch in the “v” grew smooth from cousins’ butts and shoes.”

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