Writing is a pensive task
by Annette McCleave on June 1st, 2010

The hardest part of writing for me really isn’t a craft topic. Well, not the way we generally think of craft, anyway. My biggest struggle as I work through a book isn’t plot or character arc or even choosing the right verbs. It’s deal with a fear of failure. Like many writers, I can visualize my book and my characters with amazing detail. The problem is getting those details onto the page with even half of the vividness I see in my head.

Writing would be easy if I had a pensive. Any Harry Potter fans out there? A pensive is a dish that can hold thoughts–you pull thoughts out of your head and put them in a pensive, where they can be shared with others. The thoughts are pure and vivid and almost livable. That’s what I aspire to do with my stories, but without a pensive, capturing them is a real challenge.

There are days when I look at the words I’ve clumsily cobbled together to shape my story and sigh in disgust. How can words do justice to what I see in my head? I’ll never get it right. Why even bother trying?

The hard part, for me at least, is staying at the computer and continuing to put black marks on paper even when I feel unhappy with the result. Sometimes it’s the dialog that’s not working, sometimes it’s the mood or the setting, and sometimes it’s the character balking at my orders. Whatever the current concern, I find the best way is to write through it. Keep going. I can tighten the prose, I can change the plot points, I can tweak the dialog. But I can’t fix a blank page.

The self-doubt I experience at moments when it’s not working well is tough to ignore. A little voice in my head slyly suggests I’m a fake. I’m not a real writer–real writers can mold moving tales from these inert words and letters. They can create visual masterpieces from blocks of text. Me? Not so much.

How do I get around that insidious voice?

1. By telling myself I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter.
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” ~James Michener

2. By telling myself I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Every writer I know has trouble writing.” ~Joseph Heller

3. By reminding myself that edits are a vital part of the process.
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” ~Arthur Polotnik

Then I pull the chair a little closer to the desk, put my fingers on the keys, and type.

I have a huge array of inspirational quotes that I read from time to time. Does anyone have a favorite quote they’d like to share–one that revs them up and sends them back in to the fight?

One comment to “Writing is a pensive task”

  1. 1

    The Polotnik quote is great! The fire through the smoke is exactly right.

    One of my favorite quotes — and I use it in other parts of my life besides writing — is “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

    It reminds me to temper my perfectionism with practicality.


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