Friday, May 20, 2011

Push Ups

The first piece of advice I’d like to give is an obvious one.  Ask any author, consult any book on writing, and this is the first thing that will be shoved in your face.  Why am I including it here, then?  Because it’s the single most important thing you can possibly do as a writer, and probably the thing that aspiring writers fail to do the absolute most.

You have to write.

You laugh it off, you say, “Well duh, I have to write!  That’s the point!”  Yet that point still somehow slips around us as we go about our day-to-day life.  The entire concept can be summed up with one simple analogy, and it is that writing is a muscle.  Sitting down to your computer or notebook that first time, your head pregnant with ideas and rich with dreams of writing that masterpiece you’ve got welling up inside you, it’s very easy to find yourself stuck after a paragraph.  In fact, I think I might venture to claim that this happens to everyone the first time, myself and countless other authors included.  You blurt out a short passage or two, and this starts happening:

“Describing a scene is hard…”
“I can’t think of a word for this particular thing…”
“I can’t decide what this character looks like…”
And the big one, “Where is this going?”

I doubt there’s a person on the planet that doesn’t go through this at some point or another.  You have the general idea of the story in your head, but you either can’t think of how to bring it together or can’t conjure the words to make it happen.  And do you know why this happens?  Because it’s exactly like doing a push up. 

The proper way to do push ups, just in case you were wondering.
You’re full of energy, you’re pumped, you’re totally going to finally get fit!  “Yeah!” you say, “I’m going to do twenty push ups a day!”  So you stretch, you drop to the floor, you brace your arms and you push.  The first one feels pretty good—a little harder than you expected, but still exhilarating.  The second one still feels okay, but a bit uncomfortable.  The third one feels like it takes about ten times more effort than the first did, and on the fourth you only get about halfway up before your arms crap out and you fall face-first to the floor with a sweaty slap, heaving great gulps of air.

…Okay, I can’t assume that everybody out there is as out of shape as I am, but bare with me and think of some other  act that requires a specific set of untrained muscles—playing the guitar, perhaps, or shooting a bow and arrow.  The point is, it’s hard the first time.  Really hard.  So hard that it can be completely discouraging.  And if you do have the tenacity to come back and try it again the next day, guess what happens?  Yeah, it’s just as hard, if not harder.  This is enough to make some people quit right then and there, or at least put the task on the back burner indefinitely.  But you know what happens when you try and “fail” over and over?  One day you find that you can do six push ups before passing out, that you can form a ‘G’ chord with your fingers in under five seconds, that you can draw the arrow without using your knee to pull the bow away from you, that you’ve got two paragraphs on the page and your mind hasn’t even turned to jelly yet.

Yes, this image was necessary.
It’s always so hard to get through that first push.  You feel like you’re accomplishing nothing, and all you want to do is quit; but I guarantee you, if you just keep on keepin’ on, you’ll be thankful that you did.  So if it’s hard for you to get started, I forbid you from ever thinking that it has anything to do with your ability as a writer.  I started the exact same way; I’d have an idea for the beginning of a story, and I would sit down to write it, brimming with excitement and creative energy… only to realize after half a page that this whole writing thing is hard.  And now, I’ve self-published an entire novel, about the length of the third Harry Potter book.  A few years ago it simply didn’t seem possible.  But then, playing the guitar doesn’t seem possible the first time either, but after a few years you find yourself playing a song and wondering how it could have ever been so hard.

So keep using that muscle, and it will always pay off.  Use it every day, and I promise you’ll be writing cohesive stories before you even know it.

(Hm, I should probably start doing push ups again…)   

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