But It’s Important!!!
Never Think That About Any Story…
Or novel, for that matter. They are just stories.
And telling stories is fun, right up to the moment that you make a story or novel important. That’s like taking a pin to a ballon. All the fun of writing just vanishes almost instantly in a pop.
What actually happens is by making something important, you allow the critical voice to take over. You know that voice that lives in the front of your brain and thinks it knows everything.
It shoves the creative, smart voice to the back and takes over.
Writing out of critical voice is a struggle at best, and usually critical voice will stop any writing cold. After all, the story is important, so better you not finish something than do something that doesn’t live up to the “important” thinking.
Critical voice wins.
Critical voice causes stories to bog down in the middle and get boring. Critical voice causes writers to rewrite and touch up and fix things when all that does is make a story worse.
Professional writers, for the most part, have cleared this problem out and don’t much think about. But we all get caught by “important” at times. I did last year on a story, actually. Took me a couple days to get past it and figure it out what had happened. When I figured it out, I laughed at myself and made the story not important and finished it in a hour or two.
The anthology workshop happening here in February is full of professional writers. And many of them have listened to me over the years and in just about every workshop talk about how deadly it is to make a story important.
So with the 5th story assignment, I got a chance to make the story important. I mean stupidly, blown-out-of-shape important.
I wanted to see how many of the professional writers would realize what I had done and just get by it and have fun with the story.
Well, on normal story assignments, over half of the stories are turned in the week before and another quarter are early on the last day. There are always a few who push right up to the midnight deadline. But only a few.
So what happened this time? I could get 45 stories or so maximum.
By Saturday night I only had 12 stories turned in. Oh, oh… “Important” story was winning.
By 9 pm tonight, just three hours to go, I had about half.
I happened to be on the phone with the editor of the project at that point, a long time writer and editor, and he just laughed. And said I was evil.
But as Kris said when I suggested making the story “important” to see what happens, “It’s a workshop and all the writers are taking it to learn, right?”
As usual, she was right.
41 stories came in by midnight, which is a good number.
14 in the last ten minutes.
By the way, besides realizing you are making a story important, another of the cures of getting past “important” story problem is having a looming deadline. That makes you write and not care about important anymore. Seems like a ton of writers did just that. (grin)
And I will wager, knowing these pros, that a lot of them figured out what I had done as they got to writing late, wondering why it was hard to start, took a little time to clear out “important” and got the story done.
Now I am sure that every writer who turned their story in with only an hour or so to spare has a valid and rational reason. (Dog ate my computer and so on…(grin).) Writers always do.
But every couple of hours today Kris would ask me what the total in was. And then she would shake her head and laugh.
So extreme caution, folks, when a story becomes “important” for any reason, you have to realize that, brush it off, and go play.
Someone said to me the other day, “If I’m not having fun with my writing, I’m doing something wrong.”
Important stories are never fun. But in the reality of publishing, no story or novel is ever really important.
It’s just another story.
Ouch! This hit hard. I’ve been struggling since mid December with a story I’ve apparently made important. Procrastinating, refusing to just start writing. When I do start, the words fly—but then the session is over and the next day is a struggle.
It’s been too easy to blame Christmas and a couple of brief trips and lost notes and more and more.
Yesterday I had an idea for a different story. Wrote 1, 000 in an hour and another 1,000 later on.
Why? I asked when I walked away from the second session. Why this story and not the one I need to be working on?
You’ve given the answer.
So, dang it, I have to stop thinking this story is important. That’s going to be hard. I can do it, though. I’ve dug these holes twice before and climbed back out of them—I just didn’t know the reason when my critical brain handed me the shovel LOL.
Letting myself be distracted, that’s on me. Huge distractions going on right now. I need to vow to ignore them and focus.
I constantly have to remind myself of this, with writing and my other hobbies. I love writing but constantly start to put too much importance on one part of a project. The same thing happens with some of the guitars I build. I love building guitars, but I always seem to get hung up when I want to try something new. I over-think things and put too much importance on one particular aspect which ends up bringing the whole project to a halt. As soon as de-emphasize that step, I can continue with the build. The same with my writing.
I’ve seen the “Fear of important” ruin so many books. Or it makes them take yeaaaaaaarrrs. And when/if they ever come out, they’re a terribly boring slog. I hope your students pick up on what you were teaching them! What a great object lesson.
I saw you doing that and laughed. And then promptly did it to myself on the novel I’m working on. Read the wrong Twitter thread which hit in all the wrong ways on the story so now I’m battling it, too. Critical voice, man, it rears up in the most surprising (and annoying) ways sometimes.
Ashley R Pollard
I have to admit, this is a problem I grapple with.
I’ll get better at not doing it… eventually!
Wow, Dean, this one just hit me right between the eyes. Thanks!
Oddly a thread on a sf and fantasy writers facebook group came up a day or two back asking how long people worked on their novels. Answers ranged from six months to fifteen years. “Also still need to get to the editing”, and similar comments. I thought of chipping in with my “forty days to write a novel” (which I still think is just cruising), but figured that wouldn’t go well so I shut up and moved on.
Thanks for all your help and support with getting to that point of how unimportant a story is.
I’ve learned the for me “important” is just another way of saying “perfect”. And when I try to think of my stories in terms of perfect, everything goes to the dumps.
I’ve run into this with family-based stories (i.e. retelling what really happened), in the context of the story-a-week challenge. I finally took a deep breath and said, “Nobody knows these people and it’s only fiction… just write it.” So I did. With other writing and publishing to do, I just couldn’t spend the time fussing, which worked out great. That might be the great take-away of the challenge: “Oh sure. I can give you a story, give me three hours.”
Not that I don’t prefer more time, but when I have only three hours, I am now able to spend them productively and be content with the result.
“Content” is key. Not “happy.” It’s important to do my best at the time, but it’s useless to think of every writing session as “the best story ever.” Knowing the difference was a huge revelation for me.