My Goal as a Writer

As a writer, one of my greatest personal fears (perhaps even the greatest) is stagnation.

What do I mean by stagnation?

I mean laziness. I mean writing the same story over and over again, with maybe a few cosmetic differences just to fool readers into thinking they are reading something different when in fact its the same thing you wrote last year . . . and the year before . . . and the year before that, too.

I mean never trying anything new, especially anything that is scary and difficult. I mean becoming little more than a hack.

On some level, repetition is unavoidable. After all, every story I write comes from me. It is only logical that certain themes, characters, and plots would reoccur throughout my writing. It can even give me clues as to what my strengths and weaknesses are, which is valuable knowledge for all writers to possess of themselves.

But just because I may subconsciously write certain characters, themes, and plots again is no excuse for laziness. My subconscious is pretty big. I am certain there are still plots, characters, and themes in there that are new, different, and maybe even scary. As comfortable as it is to write the same thing over and over again, I don’t believe writing is supposed to be comfortable, at least not all the time.

I’ll be frank: I want to be a great writer. Fame and money are great and all and if I end up getting both, okay, but that’s not what I want. I want to actually be great, even if most people never even know I exist or I don’t make a lot of money doing it.

And I can’t be great if I write the same story again and again. I would become boring and bland. Whatever impact the first version of the story might have on me and my audience would slowly but certainly erode as I wrote it again and again until it becomes banal and clichéd, good for little else but fire kindling.

This is at least partly why I write organically. By writing organically, I make it much more difficult to repeat myself unnecessarily. It keeps me on my toes. I allow each story to share with me what makes it different from all the others I have written before. It forces me to listen to my story, which I believe is a useful ability every writer ought to develop, whether they write organically or outline.

Learning to be great isn’t easy. Sometimes I am too hard on myself. I frequently deal with self-doubt and fear, like most writers do. I am all too aware of my own flaws as a writer. There is this insidious voice inside my head that sometimes tries to tell me that I should not write at all if I can’t magically produce a perfect first draft. I ignore it because I know it is born from fear, not reason, and therefore has no business telling me what I should or shouldn’t do, although it’s can be rather persistent at times.

Still, when I look at the “pass the bare minimum” attitude a lot of people seem to have toward writing (and life in general, now that I think about it), I realize I would never trade this attitude — as harsh and unforgiving as it sometimes is — for the alternative. I would rather aim high and fail than never aim at all.

The path to greatness, I have come to realize, is found not by doing what you are already doing, but by doing something different. I intend to follow that path, however difficult and scary it may be at times.

What do you want to get out of writing, if you are a writer? What goals do you have? Do you want to be great at whatever craft, art, or job you may practice?

-Tim

Immersive Writing

When I write, it is important that I immerse myself in the characters and world I am writing about. I cannot be a mere observer on the sidelines, mechanically recording the actions and thoughts and feelings of my characters or what their world looks like. I have to force myself to feel what they feel, think what they think, believe what they believe, see what they see, until I can start thinking of them as real people and not just figments of my imagination.

I consider this an essential part of organic writing (you can read about my organic writing process here). Because I don’t have a tidy outline to refer to when I am unsure what to write next, I need to know my characters and world almost as well as I know myself. I need to know what a character would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. I need to know what problems might occur in this world.

I rarely start out immersed in my worlds, however. It usually requires time for me to become fully immersed in the stories I write about. I know I have achieved immersion when I feel the same things they do and when I am thinking about my world and characters even when I am not writing about them.

As a result, sometimes the fictional world feels more real to me than the real world. I’m no Daydream Believer. I can tell the difference between fiction and real life. Yet in order to write stories that are genuine, I’ve found I need to blur the differences in my mind, make the dividing line between fiction and real life less clear than it normally is.

In other words, telling myself “It’s just a story, none of these characters are real, none of this really happened” is the most unproductive thing I can tell myself while writing. At the very least, I need to feel that my stories are “real” because if I don’t my readers won’t care about the characters, their world, or the things happening to them.

After all, isn’t that one of our goals as writers? If we are not convinced of the truth of our stories, then our readers won’t be, either, and they won’t want to read. Or if they do read, it’s unlikely they’ll finish or want to pick it up again or recommend it to other people.

Therefore, in order for my readers to believe the truth of my stories, I myself need to feel that my stories are “real.” At least I need to feel that way until the story is finished, anyhow.

How do you go about immersing yourself in your work? Do you find it easy or is it difficult? Do you do anything special to immerse yourself in your work or do you just let it happen naturally while you create?

-Tim