Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reasons for Writing Atrociously

The new year is upon us, and scriptwrangler's been busy. Lots of new challenges and opportunities are opening up in front of me -- like an endless blank page stretching to the horizon. Ah yes. Potential. That's good, right? Open spaces. Empty pages. I'll start writing now. Yes. Maybe another cup of coffee will help. Oh look, there's a line written. And it's atrocious. Let's try some scotch -- see if that warms up the prose a bit. Nope. Not yet. Still writing atrociously. Well, other people write well. Let's go see No Country for Old Men again. Let's read some Faulkner. Let's try to get some inspiration. It's bound to happen.

Except it doesn't always. In fact, this is how a lot of writers become readers. It's very easy to put down your work and not pick it up again.

Writing is difficult. It requires much more concentration than our media-addled brains possess. It requires discipline. It requires focus. If you're tired, or upset, or exhausted by the holidays, that's exactly what you don't have. Tackling the heart of a story requires strength. And you just don't have it.

That's where writing atrociously comes in. Ever written something, then immediately ripped it out of your notebook, lest you die suddenly and your mother see it and be unable to hide her shame? Worse yet, ever get a stream of pages that the next morning are enough to throw you into a day-long funk? I have.

But there's a reason for atrocious writing. It's like the scum on the hot chocolate as it gets cool enough to drink. It's the crust of the earth, holding the molten core in place. It's what you have to get through if you're going to write well.

Reasons for writing atrociously vary. In my case, I think it's usually my subconscious diverting a direct attack. It means that somewhere, under all that horrendous prose, there's probably a good instinct to pursue. And if I write atrociously long enough, my subconscious will inevitably run out of terrible word combinations and pitiful genre commonplaces to throw in my way. Sooner or later something simple, elegant and unexpected will appear on the page.

Sooner or later you'll be rewarded for writing atrociously. I'm convinced of this. Writing is thinking. It can't help but pay off. You just need the stomach to get there.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

I am a journalist, so writing is not the hard part for me. Getting the sale is! Not a new story, but I actually had a agent in L.A. (even though I live in Boston) and still, no sale. Will keep at it, though. Good luck to all of us in 2008!