Have you ever sat down and written the first three lines of something, only to hit the backspace like a maniac a few moments later? It’s so easy to throw out work if it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that you want it to, and often that can lead to us spinning in circles, rewriting the same sentence over and over again.
I know this because it’s something I do repeatedly. For example, I’m currently holding my 70,000 word manuscript over the metaphorical bin because I can’t see how it will end. The plot is rambling and half-baked, I’ve got characters that aren’t where they need to be, the whole thing feels like a failure. In short I want to throw it away and start from scratch.
If I do that there’s a good chance I’ll never actually get finishing the damn thing because next time I hit a snag in the draft, I’ll want to start over all over again. Instead I’m going to remind myself of a Neil Gaiman quote that I love, get my head down, and finish that draft one way or another.
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.
You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
The same applies when writing a blog post.
Yesterday I read a post called 31 Posts in 31 Days on a blog called Always Find The Silver Lining, run by Dominique. In it she finished by asking if anyone had any tips on what to do on those days where you don’t feel inspired or you’re struggling to write.
This a topic that lots of bloggers have tacked before. There are infinite suggestions across the web of things you can do if inspiration is hanging back. Read a book, take a walk, look out of the window… the list is endless and quite frankly, not a huge amount of help when you are stuck for something to write. So instead I thought I’d take the topic on from a different angle and passed on some advice I’d been given, by a Creative Writing Lecturer at Bath Spa University, when I said I was taking part in NaPoWriMo*.
Not everything you write will be good.
It was an honest comment and one that I’m incredibly glad to recieve because I’ve carried it forward with me.
At times we can sit down and write exceptional pieces of work with seemingly little effort. The words spill out with such ease that it can feel like we’re somehow cheating. Then on other days, each word will be a fight to pin down. They will clank against each other, sit awkwardly on the page, and refuse to string themselves into the shapes we want. This is the unfortunate truth about writing and it’s those days where we most want to throw the towel in and not bother finishing that story, poem, or article. It’s also those days where it’s most important that we sit back down and finish, no matter what sort of shape the final product produces for itself.
Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t important to try and make each post better than the last. My site in itself is an example of how skill improves over time. I’ve got better at writing because of how much I have written over the years, but progress is not a straight line and treating it as such will only lead to frustration.
The key is knowing that not everything you write will be fantastic. Some days it just won’t work. More often than not you have to work through a bit of sludge to get to the gold.
So if you take anything away from this post, make it this. The next time you want to hit backspace or delete, hit save instead. Come back to it later and finish it then. You never know when that piece of awkward, clunky writing might prove to be the inspirational that you’re looking for.
A while back I decided to go through the drafts piling up on my WordPress as the number was getting close to three figures and I thought it could do with a clear out. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who’s terrible at titling documents.
Turns out this is a great way of playing inspiration roulette.
Pick an untitled, see what crazy nonsense I was spewing, and throw myself into a free write. Like I said earlier, it might be terrible, it might be great, or it might be just okay.
The point is that I’ll be finishing the things I start, and that will teach me far more than hitting delete.
*National Poetry Writing Month