writer’s block

Typing Down and Dirty

Something I’m often asked about is how I manage to write so quickly. I’m also often asked about how I manage to murder with a smile on my face, and why Honey Boo-Boo is so popular with the American public. Two of these questions are Deep Mysteries, only answerable by God and perhaps certain network television execs. One of them, however, is within my grasp and understanding.

And no, it’s not the “murder” one.

It’s the writing thing. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a full-time writer. I’m a bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter who has had the great honor of having major Hollywood studios butcher his screenplays for borderline obscene amounts of money. I’m one of the bestselling horror writers on Amazon.com: my latest horror novel, Apparition, has been sitting pretty on the bestselling “ghost horror” books there pretty much since it came out, and my YA series The Billy Saga has been doing great business for two years straight.

So I write. That’s my thing. It’s what I do. And I do a lot of it. In the past two years, I’ve written over a dozen books, plus an additional dozen screenplays. That’s on top of countless articles, guest blogs like this one, and basically a caboodle (that’s classy talk for “a buttload”) of other writings, short and long. That sandwiched in among conventions, author signings, and other promotional events. Plus I occasionally try to show up and be a good dad and husband. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

It’s not unusual for me to crank out 10,000 words before dinner. Sometimes closer to 15,000.

Now, I know it’s the middle of NaNoWriMo as I type these words, so some of you might be looking at your computer screens and wishing you could reach through them and throttle me via the magic of the internet. Luckily for me you can’t. And for you, too, because my point in all this isn’t to brag. It’s to bring a message of hope, and a statement of belief: I believe that most of YOU can write that fast. I think that many people sell themselves short when they write; that they believe less of themselves than they are capable of.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that you’re going to finish this article and start instantly blasting out thousands of quality words. I’m not magic. You want that, you go to Tony Robbins. But I do think I can whisper a bit of a secret to you, the elusive secret that so few writers seem to know, the secret to writing fast, and writing good stuff fast.

Ready?

The secret to writing fast is… writing fast.

Okay, don’t get out your special Mob Kits (only $49.95, patent pending) and come looking for my blood. There is a method to this madness. What I mean is this: very often on the best days of writing, the more you do, the better you write, and the better you write, the more you do. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle, it’s a “happy cycle,” for lack of anything better to call it. A lot of authors look at it as some rare visitation of their muse, but in reality it is just them getting out of their own ways, letting themselves do what they’re already good at.

So you… let’s say you do an average of 3,500 words a day during NaNo. So tomorrow when you type, worry less about quality than quantity. And yes, you read that right. Go for 4,000 words. Even if it’s crap. Crap is okay, that’s what God invented the delete key.

But here’s the thing: if you start writing, if you just let go and start “feelin’ it,” just movin’ and groovin’ and letting your fingers do the talking, I bet when you hit that 4,000 word mark you’ll look back and be amazed at how few words need serious revision.

There’s a lot of craftsmanship to writing. A lot of practice, a lot of effort. But like most things, once you’ve learned to a certain level the secret isn’t concentration, it’s getting out of your own way and letting yourself perform at the level you’ve trained for.

10,000 words? Bah. Watch me hit 15,000 tomorrow. The only real limit is how fast I can type. And I’m not even so sure about that one.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice

Die, Poop Bird, DIE!

One of my least favorite things about today’s world is the prevalence of people who say, “It is what it is.”

Forget about the threat of global financial meltdown, skyrocketing teen pregnancy, and the pervasive appeal of the Kardashians – whenever I hear someone say, “It is what it is,” it makes me want to weep and run for the hills.

After punching the person who said it.

I mean, really, what the heck does that even mean? “It is what it is.” Huh? You ever walk up to someone and say out of the blue, “That water sure is wet,” or “I find almost all ice to be cold”? Those make about as much self-defining sense as “It is what it is.”

That being said, there is one area where sometimes you can legitimately say “It is what it is” and actually have it mean something. And that area is writing.

I’ve gotten many emails and personal queries about how to keep writing when the ideas aren’t flowing. As a novelist, I try to get out at least 5,000 words a day. 10,000 is not unusual. I write anywhere from three to eight books a year, along with numerous screenplays, blog entries, short stories, etc. etc. blah blah blah. And they don’t suck, either: my last book, The Haunted, spent almost two months on Amazon’s Horror Bestsellers list (and is still selling quite well), and (I was recently informed) is an official Whitney Awards nominee. So I must be doing something right to get that many people willing to shell out a couple bucks for my work. And when other authors and aspiring authors hear about how fast I work, they want to know my secret.

My secret is simple, and not very secret at all: sometimes you just gotta say, “It is what it is.” By that I mean: most people who suffer from “writer’s block” don’t really suffer from any kind of block. Rather, they suffer from what one of my old writing teachers called the “Poop Bird.” (He didn’t actually call it that, but the word he did use was a naughty one, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure out.)

The Poop Bird is an imaginary creature that sits on many writers’ shoulders and whispers, “That’s no good,” as they type. If it’s your typical PB, he (or she, the Poop Bird comes in many shapes, sizes, and genders) will even try to get a jump on his work by telling you, “That idea is no good,” before you even start typing. This is what most “writer’s block” really is: a self-editing function that insists on a perfect first draft.

This is bupkis. First drafts are supposed to be messy. They’re supposed to need work. That’s why God invented White Out and “delete” keys.

So what’s my secret? What’s the method I use to make sure I get out hundreds of pages when others are still working on an opening paragraph? I’ve killed the PB. I have learned to say, “This isn’t perfect. It’s a first draft. Mistakes are okay.”

In other words, I can look at a word or a sentence or a page and know it needs work and still be okay with it.

Sometimes it’s the time that you put in that matters as much as the quality. Sometimes being a “good writer” means being able to just get mediocre words on the page. Sometimes…

… sometimes, it is what it is.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice