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An Alternative Approach to "Just Write" (self.writing)
submitted 6 hours ago * by Manjo819
I have no credentials.
I've struggled with the advice to "Just Write" for a long time, and have recently found more success with it.
I'd like to share my perspective.
When a seasoned author receives questions on how to improve productivity, it makes a lot of sense for them to recommend 'just writing'. They have practice constructing passages. They have an idea, whether through training or instinct, of what goes into a good opening sentence, what kind of arc a passage wants to take, how soon the setting needs to be described. To such people 'just writing' is an action comprising much more than simply putting pen to paper.
Most of us are not these people.
I tried and failed recently to teach my younger sibling to drive. I wanted to start her off with what to me was a single easy movement from one parking space to the next. To her, of course, this meant foot on the clutch (left pedal), stick into first gear (top left), foot on accelerator (but just the right amount), slowly release clutch, try not to shit yourself at that jerk you weren't expecting, keep pressure on pedals uniform, foot on clutch again, apply brakes (but gently). Beyond the difficulty of trying to hold all these steps in her head, she hadn't yet been told what they were, nor how many.
If you've ever sat down to just write and found yourself staring at that smug little blinking line wondering where the feck to start, you can probably understand how she felt. The thing is that as with driving a manual you don't need to learn where to start solely by trial and error. You can watch how other people do it, you can ask them, or you can google it.
The allegory of the driving lesson ends here as there is only one way (to my knowledge) to drive a car. The question of how to 'just write' can't be answered as specifically. Everyone is going to have a different process. What I would like to propose, though, is that 'just writing' is significantly less futile if you equip yourself with some idea of what your process is going to be.
Let's focus on the first couple dozen characters behind that smug blinking line: Let's take a look at your opening sentence:
"'People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles'" (Less Than Zero)
This is a fairly straightforward example of an opening sentence that performs at least the triple function of introducing theme (fear, disconnection), characterising setting (LA as urban metropolis, rather than beach-side paradise for example) and initiating action (it's the beginning of a conversation).
Do you want to introduce theme, setting and action in your own opening sentence?
If yes, were you thinking about it last time you sat down to 'just write'?
You don't have to have this specific idea in mind to do so, but you'll get a lot further if you have an idea in general. Acquiring these ideas can be difficult, there aren't many people who'll stop you in the street to talk about how the opening passage of Fight Club (deliberately or not) compounds the 'narrative vertigo' effect of In Medias Res with the literal vertigo of leaning over the edge of a building to achieve the overall effect of 'really throwing you into the action'.
If you have trouble starting to write from nothing, try in a timely fashion to figure out some guidelines so that you're not really starting from nothing. A little planning goes a long way, though in the 'just write' spirit I do mean a little.
A lot of basic ideas about what you want you could answer yourself, if only you were asked the right questions. I would recommend asking yourself what you want to do with, among other things, your:
First chapter (eg. introduce main character, describe his living situation, hint at motivations for his coming actions so they seem believable)
First paragraph (eg. you want a progression from A to B within chapter 1, so you show the audience what point A is)
Opening sentence (eg. introduce main theme, convey main character's dissatisfaction with his job as a freight sorter, provide a basis for the point A you will elaborate on in the rest of the paragraph)
General theme/topic of discussion (your book is about grim perseverance, so in your opening sentence he's moving grumpily forward against some wind or some shit)
Character development (where do they start, where do they end, how do they get there, how do I show each of the above?)
Style (eg. you you hate it terribly when adverbs are used copiously and redundantly, so you substitute words that combine both intended meanings eg. ran angrily -> charged)
Once you have a few criteria in mind the task of 'just writing' becomes a whole lot less obscure.
The words "Just Write" fit into all this in the sense that if you spend your whole time deciding what you want to say, you will never actually say anything. If finding the perfect criteria for your opening sentence is going to take ten non-consecutive hours of brainstorming, then just find a single criterion and make a sentence around it. If you can't figure out what should happen between paragraph 1 and paragraph 3, write 1 and 3 and think about what's missing to get from one to the other. "Just Write" means that whatever else you are doing, if you are not applying pen to paper you are doing it wrong.
Also if you hate starting from page 1 try the Snowflake Method [https://proactivewriter.com/blog/see-how-easily-you-can-write-a-novel-using-the-snowflake-method] or something comparable.
I've seen a lot of posts here asking for more specific advice than 'just write' and the response has most often been 'just write, dude'. I've explained why I think people give this advice above and you're not wrong. This is just an alternative approach.
I am not under the illusion that I wrote this well.
TL;DR: Just Write means doing more than just scrawling on paper, it helps to have specific considerations, whether overt or instinctual, that shape your writing as it comes out. As you get more comfortable considering and scrawling at the same time, your definition of 'just writing' will expand.
You know, I think you are completely over thinking the meaning of "Just write".
Just write means EXACTLY that. Only this and nothing more.
It DOES NOT mean you have a plot in mind or any clue what to write.
It means, you sit ass in chair and write the very first thing that pops into your head no matter what it is. Write what your desk looks like, write about your neighbours who won't stop yelling all night long, write about that annoying crack in the wall that is distracting you... just write.
It's known as "free writing". The idea is to write lots of nothing about anything and everything, to loosen up your brain, and get all the emotional blocks out of the way.
THIS is what authors mean when they say "just write". I can't even begin to imagine how it is you translated it to mean anything else.
It's a type of exercise. You wouldn't play football without doing warm up exercises would you? Writing is the same way. I don't know of any professionally published writer who doesn't do daily free-writing warm up sessions before getting to work of whatever assignment they are supposed to be doing.
In most cases after you've done this for a couple of hours, you find yourself taking what you are writing and subconsciously turning it into a story. A story you had not planed or prepared, but rather a story you didn't know you had in you.
Scrawling empty nothings on the page is EXACTLY what "just write" means.
I've never started out with a plot. Never knew where the story was going to go.
Have you looked into a thing called "beat sheets". It sounds like that's the sort of writing method you are looking for. Beat Sheets are fill-in-the-blank outlines, that are similar to the mad libs game, but designed for novelists. They are usually about 10 pages long, 1 page for each chapter and are used as a jumping off point for people who need some sort of guidance to write.
If you go to Harlequin's site, they have beat sheets listed for each of their book lines, because in Romance authors are required to stick to a strict formula (thus why it's called formula writing - character MUST do this on page 8, and MUST do that on page 24, and this must happen then, etc) Beat sheets are how Harlequin authors publish a new novel every single month like clockwork. Formula writing with beat sheets gets pretty easy if you do it a few times and get the hang of it. Barbara Cartland used beat sheets and she published 801 novels before she died. (she has the Guinness World Record for the most novels published by any one person).
There's an example of beat sheets used for Monster Porn short stories here: https://www.eelkat.com/writing-monster-porn-beat-sheets.html I use them when writing short horror stories because it helps me keep the story under a certain word count by keeping the characters on track and not letting the story wander off on it's own. That sort of thing might help you out if free writing is too loose a method.
Another beat sheet I've used is the one by Jami Gold, here: https://jamigold.com/2012/11/write-romance-get-your-beat-sheet-here/
My favourite beat sheet is the Lester Dent one from the 1930s: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
There's others but I can't think of where they are off the top of my head. I had those 3 bookmarked. I had another one bookmarked too, that had 50 beat sheets, but the link goes to a 404 page now and I can't find a replacement page for it, Looks like it got taken down.
When I'm doing the 52 stories in 52 weeks challenge, I've found those beat sheets to be very helpful. Beat sheets is how I've been able to publish a story a week for years. Its why I can just write so many stories without having any plot or characters to start out with. Beat sheets are amazing if you like using that sort of thing. A lot of writers don't like them and call them cheat sheets and won't use them, but most every big name author whose putting out 4 or more books a year uses them. They free up a lot of time and make the writing process go a lot faster and smoother. It's definitely something to look into if you are having trouble getting started on a story, because they are incredibly helpful and keeping the story on track,
For novels, all I do is free write though. No plotting. No planning. No beat sheets. All 130 novels I've published since 1978, not one has ever been pre-planned. All just pure free writing with no clue where the story will go or what's gonna happen next.
I do like the Snowflake method. I'd tried it a few years back. It's sort of a, free association style of writing where you write this and it makes you think of that, so you add that too. Stan Lee said once he used the SnowFlake Method when writing Spiderman.
Some people say building an outline helps. I used to do that decades and decades ago, but I found whenever I outlined the story, I never wrote said story after. It was like I already knew how the book was going to end, so I was not motivated to write. I think of writing as a discovery. It's more like I'm reading WHILE I write, so I never know what is going to be on the next page until after I've written it. Outlines just plain gum up my ability to write so I don't like using them, but perhaps drawing up an outline before you write is the method that'd work better for you?
There's lots of methods of writing, I think all you can do is try each method one at a time until you find the one that is the best fit for you.
Hope that helps. Good luck with it.