A friend of mine had a writer advice question that I personally struggle with. In fact, I think a lot of people struggle with it, so I thought I’d answer here.
Shared with permission:
David, you’re a novelist. Would you mind sharing some writerly advice? I want to know how you deal with these things, or if they bother you.
I’ve got two inner voices that bug the crap out of me. I’ve got my inner literary critic snob voice, and I’ve got my inner editor-from-hell voice, and they won’t leave me alone for a second when I’m working on anything, even first drafts. Have you ever had that problem? How do you get them to shut up?
I can think of a few good answers here. I don’t know if there’s a right answer or anything like that. But there’s probably no wrong answers, except for the answer which doesn’t work for you. Like I’ve said about writing advice before, Writing Advice Is A Dildo. Not every piece of advice works for every person. You’ve got to find the right dildo for your own specific needs. The best strategy is to just try as many pieces of writing advice you can, and find the ones that work best for you.
1) Alcohol. If it works for you, it absolutely works. A drink before a stretch of writing means that you can just hustle and flow. You can just produce words. Those “higher brain” voices will shut up and get out of the way, while you create.
What you really want though is that sweet spot where you’re social and vulnerable and open. That point where you’ll tell people your deepest secrets like they’re your best friends. Then? You’ll write. You’ll write and it’ll feel cathartic and while it won’t be perfect, you’ll produce stuff you would have never imagined without. It’s no coincidence so many brilliant writers were alcoholics.
There’s a HUGE caveat here: Alcohol is dangerous. Alcohol can do all sorts of awful shit to your body, to your brain, and to your life. Do not sacrifice your mental, physical, or social health for your writing. If you have an addictive personality, don’t do this. You know all those brilliant writers I mentioned in the last paragraph? Many of them died poor because of alcoholism, and most of them weren’t recognized for their brilliance until after their deaths.
Also, alcohol produces raw, rough words. You’ll need to spend more time on the back end cleaning up your prose. But that’s okay! You have that aggressive, oppressive editor brain. You know, the one you wanted to shut up earlier? There’s a place and a time to let her out.
2) Let them take over. I tend to write very clean first drafts because I let my inner editor do a lot of the writing. It takes me longer that way, but it does ultimately save me time on the back end. This is doubly good for your editor. If you hand over cleaner writing, they can focus more on making the words sound good, instead of not looking like they stepped out of a swamp, mutated and craving human flesh.
Your art critic brain can also produce some great content. But, like with writing drunk, you need to work more on the back end. I find that the hoity toity brain produces fewer serviceable words, and you have to delete a bunch of pretentious bullshit from your drafts. Your mileage may vary, though.
3) Use timers. I find that if I do short bursts, like 20 minutes at a time, I will just write and tell those voices to fuck it. Sprints like that are a good tool for production, ESPECIALLY if you take advantage of those voices on the front end for interesting brainstorming and extensive outlining.
This is ultimately a matter of task-oriented writing. If you know what you’re writing and compartmentalize, you won’t get distracted by your higher functions.
4) As I just mentioned above, outlining is a big deal. If you outline, you know what you’re writing, so you have a lot more capacity to just tell those voices to STFU. My personal sweet spot comes down to chunks of words in the 250 to 500-word range. Beyond that, and my mind starts to meander. But if I know what I’m doing at least every 500 words, I can keep focused.
5) Learn your shitty mistake patterns. If there’s a word you commonly misspell, focus on that. If there’s a terrible passive voice phrase you lean on way too much, teach yourself to not use it anymore. My favorite is “there is.” I spend a lot of time Control + F’ing that phrase. So, I’ve taught myself to stop using it. That placates my higher brain so I can focus more on actually getting shit done.
Are there any other blocks you run into, readers? Drop them in the comments.
I’m about 95% done with A Transylvanian Prince in Southern California—it should be out in the next few days. Then, #iHunt will be following fast on its tail. I’m about half way through its edits. I’m so excited to get it in your hands. If you haven’t already read the first and second chapters of Transylvanian Prince, you should.