It doesn’t make much sense, on the surface of it. If you’re blocked, then “just writing” is like telling Mother Hubbard to just cook — there’s nothing in the damn cupboard, so the best you can do is cook the damn dog, and that ain’t happening.
If it’s because you’re unsure of what you’re writing with that damn editor is sitting on your shoulder, whispering how bad the writing is, the last thing you want to do is give him (or her) someone more to critique.
If it’s because the desire isn’t there, the inspiration, then “just write” seems kind of trite and slightly condescending. (Incidentally, Mordecai Richler once said something along lines that if he sat around waiting for inspiration to strike, he never would written a damn word in his life…)
So saying “just write” seems counter-intuitive at every level. But here’s why it works. Writing is not always about relating what’s already in your head. It is that, especially for certain types of writing like journalism and technical manuals, etc.
But with fiction writing, that story isn’t automatically in your head. You have to explore and, well, get creative (that’s why it’s called creative writing, I guess). Many writers feel they have to think it through, and let it roll around in their brains. Many times, that’s true. But often it’s not.
Think of a potter. You could sit there all day, imagining the mug you’re going to throw. You imagine the shape, the decoration you carve into the side, the handle you’re going to put on, maybe even the colour it’s going to be. But until you actual centre that clay on the wheel, you can’t fully explore what that mug is going to look like. You literally form it in your hands, and half (or more) of the creativity that goes into that mug is released during the process, not the imagining.
I can hear you clamouring. Writing is not pottery. Writing isn’t working with the hands. Well, in a way it is. We throw the words down on the page, swirl them around, and form them into sentences, paragraphs, stories. We build up the walls and form the lips and put on handles so the reader can get a firm grasp.
But the real correlation comes in the fact that no matter how many days we spend imagining that story, we never really know how it’s going to turn out until we start writing it.
That’s why even if we don’t have an original idea, we can take someone else’s idea and let it morph itself into our own. If you can’t think of anything to write, start re-writing The Great Gatsby (or whatever your favourite book is) from memory. When you forget a part or you find an interesting new avenue you want to explore, explore it. And hey, suddenly you’re creating something original.
So grab some words. Throw them down on that wheel. Tell your editor to shut up. And just write.
(This self-administered advice is helping me through some rough patches right now.)
(Novel Writing Totals)
Hours Today: 1
Words Today: 1051
Hours Total: 47.75
Words Total: 64,223