TESTING THE WATERS: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO WRITE ABOUT?
Just as essential as writing consistently, delving into different styles is an important (and fun!) step in discovering oneself as a writer. Specially if you just got started, your current state may not be your final destination, and that’s a good thing. In fact, you may never reach the end. After all, your final work will later require varying levels of editing. And whoever said it’s done after that? You’ve simply decided to stop there because it looks right.
My point is: texts are in a state of constant transmutation, and it’s the same thing when it comes to their writers. With the hodgepodge of new ideas, tons of writing and reading other people’s influential work, feeling a little nudged is inevitable.
It’s only natural to be inspired when you focus on those who you admire and write about what you’re writing. Now, what if I told you it’s possible to engage in styles that were unexpected to you, actually enjoy the process and take important lessons from it? It’s all a matter of experimentation, even if you’re not sticking to that specific project in the long run.
I’ll use a recent episode as an example:
During class, a Portuguese Literature teacher presented to the class one of her newly published children’s books, which she was psyched to finally bring to light. Such was her excitement, she assigned a rather peculiar project: each student would have to write their own children’s book. She would review all of them, and depending on the outcome, she would even advise some people to get theirs illustrated and subsequently pitched to publishers. Mind you, we had ever written a book in exchange for a grade before.
The assignment generated a bit of controversy. Some of us were eager to get started on such an unusual task, while others couldn’t fathom how writing a children’s book could possibly challenge us in any way.
I must confess that I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea at first glance. I thought to myself “let me get this over with. I need the grade and I got more important stuff I have to do.”
With hindsight, I had undervalued work that would later return to bite me, pretty hard at that, but also fascinate me.
Not long ago, I watched an interview with Judy Blume on Masterclass, in which she breaks down her creative process.
“WHEN WE’RE WRITING FOR KIDS, WE’RE NOT AN ADULT TELLING A STORY ABOUT A KID. WE ARE THAT KID.” — JUDY BLUME.
Oh, how I wish I’d seen that before paying heed to my judgmental misconceptions! Gladly, I was committed to the project long enough to realize the truth on what she stated.
Regardless of how easy I thought it would be to write for kids, I didn’t want to create shabby work. I didn’t want a shallow story about puppies and rainbows, unless it would overshadow a deeper meaning.
The result: it was straight up brutal to come up with a storyline about incidents that were truthful in nature, yet in a euphemistic way. At least that’s what I was aiming for — to assist little ones in understanding things even I don’t, things most grown-ups get along with without really comprehending, such as fights and relationships. With lots of embellishment, of course.
As the book progressed, it felt as though a tiny version of myself and I sat for a pretend tea party while she shared her newfound wisdom with me in an innocent manner. By addressing realistic issues based on my own childhood, I tackled personal views and ideas in this sugary voice I never really knew I carried within me.
It was simultaneously demanding and rewarding. I don’t see myself doing that, however. But at least I took the chance to be familiar with it and, most importantly, appreciate it.
Still, I understand the refrainment from surfing new writing waves. As a matter of fact, I believe it happens due to preconceptions and, above all, fear. Let’s boil this down, shall we?
THE POSSIBLE REASONS THAT ARE HOLDING YOU BACK
My assumption on writing for children was that it wouldn’t do anything for me, ever. I hadn’t touched a children’s book in years, therefore I shut it off altogether — until, by an irony of fate, I had to write that book on my own. Unpublished, mediocre in my view, but nonetheless an unforeseen source of growth. So, please, try not to anticipate your disapproval like I did, because life may throw a not-so-sour lemon your way.
On the other hand, one may not be interested in becoming acquainted to a specific type of writing because they don’t think is worthy of their time or simply don’t care, and that’s alright. I’m not telling you to go style-hopping or anything. However, oftentimes there is some curiosity present, but it can be smothered by the infamous fear of failure.
It’s no wonder this topic is widely discussed in the writing realm. Besides being pesky, fear is multifaceted. Its branches can present themselves as fear of rejection, of abandoning a work in progress, you name it. The labels won’t change their one origin, which is insecurity. Sound familiar?
As creatives, we are prone to struggle with insecurity most of the time, so much it should have turned into a habit by now — unfortunately not the case here. To feel that slow-rising urge to quit and wonder why we even got started on that work is an awful experience at any stage, and our ability to push on regardless is remarkable. While it may be true, none of us are immune to the dreaded blocks.
Whether you believe in writer’s block or not, being jammed in a draft is no fun. Personally, it’s one of my biggest writing fears even though it’s common practice, because it leaves me with the choices of either to keep swimming until the “a-ha” moment occurs — which can take very long — or set the project aside for a while until I’m able to process things more clearly, which used to be a terrifying prospect.
I’ll tell you what: sometimes fate can be a prankster, considering it took me a seemingly inescapable ditch to understand that working on something else until I cleared my head would not make me a failure. Instead of screwing me over like I thought it would, life hurled at me the sweetest of grapefruits: making me realize that I may not end up writing the same thing for the rest of my life, and that yes, I could enjoy writing different styles.
YOUR CURRENT STATES ISN’T NECESSARILY YOUR FINAL STOP
A few years back, prior to getting started on writing, I developed a flourishing interest in screenplays. I read tons of them and thoroughly browsed around for tips and techniques. As soon as I got the hang of it, I thought “Yep. I’ll hone this craft daily and dedicate the largest possible amount of time to it. That’s what I want to write, forever. Period.”
I did, in fact, stick to it to this day. This year, however, I experienced one of the toughest, disheartening blocks ever.
I was attempting to write my second feature script, in hopes to at least submit it to a few competitions. Drafts in, drafts out…and I never seemed to get out of the impact zone. I was changing a lot in each rewrite — I’ve reached six drafts so far — but those never seemed good enough, and I felt incapable. The thought of deserting that story ran through my head multiple times.
I did not want to give up on it, though. I felt so strongly about it, I still do. During a time of despair, that little voice of hope that I believe every writer holds like a guardian angel, whispered to me that I shouldn’t leave it just yet. Whenever that happens, I always go with the voice.
Here’s what I did: I frantically googled articles on how to get unstuck, how to keep writing when you’re unmotivated, and posts with similar content. A common point among them was that turning to a different project whenever feeling stuck would help creativity to circulate again. Also, reading all kinds of different material would likely spark some inspiration.
The reading part is fair, since there’s no writing — at least not proper — without it. But write something else? I couldn’t agree less. How, in heaven’s name, would that be helpful? That would only pile stuff up and I’d be at a loss.
I could go on sulking at this idea, but I didn’t. I knew that script would drive me nuts if I didn’t give it a time-out. Therefore, I proceeded to read as much as I could.
Alright, I admit that I’m not a bookworm. Instead, scripts took up most of my reading time, so I believed it was time for a change. I pondered on what else could be inspiring. Shortly after, it dawned on me:
I’ve always been a binge-reader of blog articles and personal stories at my leisure. Their power to provide this cozy feeling of empathy is impressive. Besides, I had gone over enough of them to be able to test my skills and create one myself. Each time my pride got in the way, I would tell it “This isn’t a long-term thing. It’s just until my ideas fall back into place.”
With that, I got down to writing articles. Articles on issues that were interesting to me, issues I enjoyed reading about. I also dug up scribbles that were hidden away in my notebooks and journals and polished them up, with the intention of transforming them into stories capable of transmitting insightful meaning.
It was a slow course until I grew fond of it, eventually feeling obsessed and in love. I was determined to publish the posts and stories in a blog of my own, which linked me to a beautiful community replete with talented writers of all backgrounds. Needless to say, the advice worked like a charm, because writing something else is much better than writing nothing at all.
I didn’t abandon my screenplay, and I won’t. If all this has taught me anything, it was that I don’t have to get everything right at once. I’m learning not to connect a large number of drafts and tossed papers and rejections with defeat, I associate them with progress instead. Plus, the flow might lead you towards unimaginable places, so let it do its job!
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST: TAKE EVERY CHANCE YOU GET TO WRITE SOMETHING NEW
The post you’re reading at this very moment is the product of leaving pride and preconceived notions behind. I had never envisioned myself writing posts, yet here I am. I don’t wish to come only this far, though.
As of now, I know I want to keep on writing blog articles and screenplays. What else? I have no idea. I don’t know which new style will reveal itself to me next. If it ever does, it is more than welcome. I won’t hesitate to dip my feet into it this time.
What about you, how far have you sailed?
This article was previously posted at The Thought Inventory.