13 August 2006

the creative power of *not* writing

In talking to non-writers (that is, "folks who neither think of nor introduce themselves as 'writers'") I often hear things like "writing is hard."

Bullshit. At least, for me, in my odd world, that's bullshit.

'Cuz for me what's hard is not "writing," but "NOT writing."

Yet I have found that often NOT writing is the best thing I can do for my writing. What often works better is to hold that urge—to force it to cure and amplify and build like a feedback wave until there's no longer any damned chance of not writing.

Take the current rom-com project as an example. I'm on page 93 of the first draft. I have a producer waiting to read the damned thing as soon as I can send it over. I have an outline that I like well enough, and I see most all of the major scenes clearly enough in my head. But I'm not spending much time in the physical act of "writing"—I'm not tapping keys and adding words and letters to the pile.

Instead, I'm slow-circling the project, thinking about these scenes yet to be written. I'm listening to the dialog these characters want to say—need to say. I'm looking for all the subtext and theme and off-camera story that might be hinted at and referenced. Part of me wants to dive in and start clicking the keyboard, but another part of me says "relax... not yet...".

Wait 'til you can see the whites of their eyes....

The trick here is to hold the pose, to maintain steely-eyed focus until your body (or at least the mental image of your body) quakes and shudders from tension and near-exhaustion, and then release that pent-up focused creativity in a massive burst of output. When that burst comes, I'll blow through 15, 20 pages in one sitting, and often these pages are pretty damned good, requiring a lot less work and rewriting than if I'd instead sat here for weeks, noodling a few words here, adding a snippet there, appending a page as comfortable.

Because writing— the real nuts and bolts heavy lifting part of it—is not what you do with your fingers. That's "typing."

Writing—real writing—is done in your mind, and the longer I can put off the urge to scratch that itch by clicking on keys, the better the writing will be when I finally do scratch.

So if you see me not writing, relax: I'm probably busy writing.
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B

6 comments:

Curtis Edmonds said...

The trick here is to hold the pose, to maintain steely-eyed focus until your body (or at least the mental image of your body) quakes and shudders from tension and near-exhaustion, and then release that pent-up focused creativity in a massive burst of output.

Yeah. I had a date like that once.

Thomas Crymes said...

I completely agree, and oddly enough my latest Blog post deals with the same thing.

I'm struggling with finding a way to make the time I'm not typing, productive. It is so easy to slack off in that stage, because it is harder to quantify your progress.

I know people who JUST WRITE BABY, but ultimately, I think the work emerges better for the waiting.

Brett said...

I think there's a subconscious push to write SOMETHING in order to have something tangible to point to as evidence that you are, in fact, "writing." It's hard to point to a mental image of your story and say "see? I've got most of the major points fairly well conceived!"

Plus, the moment that you put it into actual words on page form, your story becomes a little more set in stone, where if you can keep it in your head, it will remain a fluid flexible painlessly improved thing.
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Scribe LA said...

"Instead, I'm slow-circling the project, thinking about these scenes yet to be written. I'm listening to the dialog these characters want to say—need to say. I'm looking for all the subtext and theme and off-camera story that might be hinted at and referenced. Part of me wants to dive in and start clicking the keyboard, but another part of me says "relax... not yet..."."
I think you're definitely on target here, B, but I worry sometimes that overthinking can be just as deadly as underthinking. I think the key may just be in finding the right balance.
Scribe
Scribe

Brett said...

"Overthinking" seems low on my list of issues to be much concerned with.

The Wife and most of my friends would surely concur.

But thanks-- I shall endeavor to persevere.
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B

mernitman said...

I think you're spot on with this -- I wish more writers would "write off the page" than just write to get pages done... we'd see better screenplays.