“hollywood ending,” by woody allen


An article on how to write without looking back

Some of us write like they are just getting something out of their way. They just do it. The words flow from them as if they have been born God’s spokesperson. And when they’re done, they’re done. They fire up their word processor and start over again.

This is not for them.

So, if you have no problem saying what you want to say, go read something else. This brief article is not for you (thank God).

When I sit down to write, there are many things out there to distract me, to stop my text from going forward. Radio KFKD might come a tad too loud, and its sound waves might send me off my chair, walking up and down the room, hallucinating. There may be moments when I have no clear idea of what I want to say, or I may have accumulated so many of them that I don’t even know which to pick first: both alternatives take my hand off my keyboard and onto my chin. Also, because I usually write fiction and my stories must happen to people and they need to happen somewhere, it is not infrequent that I want to use persons that I've never met and places where I have never been. This demands the ever delightful trip into the world of research which completely halts my writing.

The most distracting and unproductive habit I've developed, however, is the naughty habit of reading myself while I’m writing. I’m going to say it lightly: to read yourself while writing is to die a death of a thousand locusts. For me, it is a guaranteed recipe to spend four hours in one page. If I allow myself to read what I have been writing, I’m going to change words, erase sentences, rewrite entire paragraphs. I’m going to think that this character would do better as a woman and I’m going to decide that if the color of his (or her?) car were yellow instead of green it would say more about him. I’m going to be busy, but my text will not be going forward. Vivisected, it’s going to lose all its original energy. After some time on this, it might even seem odd, like a face victim of so many plastic surgeries that it looks flawless and horrendous.

To self medicate myself out of this condition, I've developed a technique. I call it blindwriting. It goes like this:

You grab your cup of coffee, you sit down to write, you open up your document and shut down your computer screen.

And then you start writing.

But how can I write if I can’t see what I’m writing?

You have done it before. You have lied to your parents, you have confided long stories to close friends, you have convinced entire bar tables of your crazy theories. And you've done it without reading yourself. It will demand a stronger focus, because you will always need to know what you are talking about, which object you are describing, which color is the sky. But to achieve this level of concentration is good. We need this. Our texts will improve from this. All your attention, all your energy will be directed into what you are saying.

But the words will come out all wrong! How can I know if I've pressed ENTER once or fifteen times?

You can’t. And yes, you’ll make many spelling mistakes. But you can fix that as soon as you’re done. Even if you have cooked up an unreadable goulash of characters, you’ll remember what you meant, because you were totally focused when you wrote it. And nobody needs to see your delicious and temporary mess.

hungarian goulash mmmm…

It is not a problem to think about what you are writing. It is good to think over your choice of words, keeping what you wanted to say in mind. It is good to think about how your characters are feeling and which adjectives would or wouldn't convey this information directly into your readers’ hearts. But the time for this will come later. Now, it’s time to write. You don’t know where you’re going yet. You may think you know, but you really don’t. You can only know when you’re there. Until then, let your protagonist be male, let that horrible sentence sit among the other ones like a party crasher. Maybe, by the time you’re done, you’ll realize that, without that ugly sentence, you wouldn't be able to arrive at some of your most brilliant conclusions. It is an evil sentence, but its evilness is necessary. If you had removed it, you wouldn't have gone as far as you went.

Some writers who correct themselves while writing have even reported having changed the same word back and forth, over and over, never deciding which one is better. There’s a reason why you can’t decide which word is right. You don’t know. Yet. Go ahead. If when you’re truly done you still don’t know, it’s because there’s no right answer. Pick one at random. Ask your neighbor’s opinion and settle for the opposite one.

This technique is weird, I know. I've done it several times, and it looks like you've finally broken that thread of sanity which connected you to mankind and you've sided early with the Army of Machines. To avoid strange looks, if you write at coffee shops or in any public place, you may try, instead of turning down your computer screen, using an unreadable font, like Wingdings or any hardcore cursive font. Setting its size to the smallest possible also helps.

This technique is also not magical. It won’t automatically give you all the right words at the right time. You’ll hesitate just the same. You will know not how to proceed. But when uncertain about how to keep moving, you will not be able to look back. Looking back will show you where you were, but will also show you what you could have done better, and it will tempt you to go back and fix it. For us, writers, looking back should feel as looking down feels to rookie climbers. It should fill us with fear.

I’m pretty sure there are several brilliant writers and accomplished creative writing teachers who shall agree with me that writing is this flow of energy I've just described. But this is a subject for another time. You may call this technique an exercise and try it out. The worse that could happen is you find out that it is not exactly your cup of tea, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s a chance, however, that you’ll find out that this way of writing, in which you don’t look back, is pretty much what you need: a forced way of being carefree when writing, a way to recover that joy of writing for writing’s sake. Blindwriting surely won’t entitle you as God’s spokesperson. But it may give strength to your voice, and even the softer of voices needs strength.