Gaining Perspective

It’s hard to admit you’ve lost your way. It’s even worse when you knew where the signposts were, but you turned a blind eye and wilfully cut your own track anyway. The problem is, if you are going the wrong way eventually you will have to get back on track, or be forced to an untimely halt.

This happened to me with my writing process. I have written for as long as I can remember – journals, sketches, short stories, songs and poems. I would get up early in the morning to steal quiet time, sneak off by myself during lunch breaks, and be thrilled with any time I could snatch to put pen to paper. It was a joy; a private, cherished, personal joy.

Yet I still wandered so far off my personal writing path that I lost all joy in the writing process. And I did this because I didn’t trust my own gift or my instinct – but decided to find how it should be done.

I could bore you with all the things that didn’t work, but the truth was I spent too much time listening to everyone else and not paying attention to my unique writing process. Eventually I had to admit that sitting around with other writers trying to dissect my poor, limp, over-thought, prose was a waste of time. I have since learned that if you find yourself dissecting something, it is already dead.

Fortunately even a dream can be jump-started. In my case the emergency paddles came in the form of regaining perspective.

I had to step back from the story and ask what had inspired me to dream up Fall of the Kings in the first place?

And I realised, for me, it has always been scratching at the why. Why people do what they do? Why seemingly small decisions can change the course of our whole lives? Why some people insist on sucking on lemons, while others jump at the chance to make lemonade?

My writing process used to involve spending time paddling around in backstories that would never make it into the novel. Apparently this isn’t an efficient way to write – but it has always brought me joy, so I’ve decided to trust my instincts and go back to what worked for me. The results have been promising too. I’ve recently learned a few juicy snippets about a couple of characters that explain why they are always picking at each other – so writing them now is fun.

A few years back I wrote a post, A Word about Waymarkers, which discussed the need for having markers or touchstones to keep a story on track. In hindsight I realised I missed a few crucial points. Firstly, it is important to take your bearings regularly, to look out for the markers, and always know where true north lies. It’s harder to go off track if you always know where you are. And perspective isn’t just for stories. If you can remember what motivates you to turn up at the page, and honour that process, you’re more likely to get to where you want to go.

I’d love to know how you stay true to your own writing style? 

9 thoughts on “Gaining Perspective

  1. Thank you for sharing. I got off track in college–both reading and writing. I had to slowly build it back up. Then one day, 10 years ago, I woke up one morning and wrote. I haven’t stopped, even when I’m not writing.
    The key was Stephen King, for me. He said, basically, “it might be shit, but it’s your shit: so write!” So I did, and it wasn’t very good at first–even if the ideas behind it were good.
    My biggest temptations are twofold:
    1. My work might be good, but it won’t ever sell.
    2. My work isn’t literary enough.
    I have to resist those voice, #1 because it is unhelpful, #2 because it isn’t true. #1 might be true, but I won’t know until I write. #2 might be true, but I don’t like that over-worked prose you talked about.
    Thanks, and welcome back to your world!

    1. Not long after I wrote that, I read these words in Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” which I am reading for the first time. Poor Orlando, he desires to write, which is wrong for the aristocracy. He has been pilloried by a friend in public and heartbroken in love. He sits beneath an oak for 12 years and then says:
      “‘I’ll be blasted’, he said, ‘if I ever write another word, or
      try to write another word, to please Nick Greene or the Muse. Bad, good,
      or indifferent, I’ll write, from this day forward, to please myself'”

    2. Thanks Brenton – it’s so easy to fall into comparison and self-doubt. It’s a huge relief to just let it all go and enjoy the writing once again. I’m so glad you found your rhythm too.

  2. First, let me say, WELCOME BACK! It is great to see a post from you again.

    This line “I have since learned that if you find yourself dissecting something, it is already dead.” I think that needs to be made into a poster and hung on the wall over my desk.

    I can well understand what you’ve come through. I actually attempted to ‘quit’ writing for nearly 10 years. It didn’t work so well. I wasn’t a very happy person at times.

    Writing those little snippets and backstory — I’ve got tens of thousands of such words written for many characters. Some minor ones. But I look at them as ways of getting to know my world and my story more intimately. Even if no one but me will ever see them. And, writing them helps free me up if I’m stuck. Let’s me exercise my skills without fear. Helps me grow as a writer.

    I’m pumped you are finding your writing again, and look forward to reading it.

    1. Thanks so much Kathi – it’s nice to be back. The choice to stop writing (or let it go – there are always so many other calls on our time) made me even more miserable because it’s such a big part of who I am and how I process the world. Very weird to see 5am, but so so good. I’m looking foward to getting around the blogs and seeing what everyone’s been up to!

  3. ❤ She's back! Huzzah!
    I think all writers who take their craft seriously must struggle with the "what if" questions, the second-guessing, the fear that others are right and we are wrong (that last one is sometimes true, but it takes a lot of sifting to figure out when it is and when it isn't). I know that I do.

    I have an editor's heart and mind, so "dissecting" is an important part of my writing process, but there's a natural flow to it, too, and a joy that's only present when I'm doing it right. When I lose that joy, everything I write falls flat. So that, thus far, is my guidepost. The encouragement of others, though, helps (in some ways) still all the voices that rise up to tell me my work is rubbish.

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