Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sweet Sacrifice: Words of Encouragement for Struggling Writers - One Sentence at a Time

The following is a chapter of a work in progress titled Sweet Sacrifice: Words of Encouragement for Struggling Writers. Every so often I’ll publish a new chapter on this blog until the entire book is complete. If you have any comments, please leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them promptly. Enjoy!

One Sentence At A Time

The sentence—it’s the most basic unit of writing, but many of us struggle to put down a few, let alone a single word each day. If you can compose a sentence, even to the tune of one per day, you will eventually finish an entire book. It’s a mathematical certainty, even if an author doesn’t have an inkling about plot, characterization, mood, setting, thematic elements or even the genre that they’re writing in. Books are realized by those brave, few souls who are willing to commit one sentence after the other until they reach the end. It’s really that simple.

A sentence can be big or small, and doesn’t have to conform to a predetermined length. It can be composed of a single word or ramble on into infinity—whatever works! Vary them accordingly.

All it takes to start moving is a few, simple words. By focusing on the sentence at hand, you can make an immediate impact on your work. Perhaps you don’t know what you’re writing yet. In the strange phenomenon that is writing, after one writes for a while, the greater point that they’re trying to convey suddenly appears in their head. They don’t need to know where they’re going, only that they are moving forward—at least, that’s how it works for me. Words are not necessarily wasted. If you hadn’t been writing, you wouldn’t have found what you were looking for.

Or perhaps you’re one of those master plotters who have everything worked out beforehand. One day, you may come to a point where you find it hard to juggle all the details to make the words come out just right.

Relax. Take a step back. And simplify.

And if you find yourself rereading the same sentence over and over again, and your productivity has been reduced to a feeble crawl, perhaps you’re trying to do too much. Put your work aside and concentrate on the next few words. Try not to worry about it; just get it out. Then the next. Keep going till that mental block you hurdled is far behind in your rearview mirror.

If you think too much about what you’re going to do before you do it, you can easily defeat yourself. Perhaps you want to write 10,000 words today, or (gasp) even more. Worrying about it won’t get words onto paper. The more you ponder the mountain that you must climb, the less inclined you will be to scale it.

Baby steps first, my ambitious friend. Just a little at a time is all you need to worry about. One sentence at a time.

Is it finally sinking in? Once you’re in motion, stay in motion. With a little practice, it will become apparent how much your brain can handle at one time. Perhaps you cannot hold an entire sentence in your head at once. I find myself putting down the first half of a sentence and figuring out the rest as I go along. This is normal, and you will be able to handle more as you get more comfortable.

Or perhaps you have another dilemma—perhaps your brain can hold multiple sentences before getting them out. I bow to your genius, master author.

Hopefully you’re a fast typist, for with that talent I’d imagine that there is a tendency to revise your thoughts before getting them down. If you can do this at high speeds, so much the better for you. But if you encounter frequent conflicts and are experiencing waning productivity, take it down a notch. This is a writing process after all, not an editing process.

Give yourself some space to actually compose. Don’t over-think the process. Let it all out.

This reminds me of something my instructor said at a beginner art class years back. First, we were shown children’s drawings of trees and houses and flowers lining the walkway. I’m sure you’ve seen these before and probably scribbled down quite a few in your time. While crude, an undeniable energy radiated from each of the drawings. Trees weren’t merely trees but prickly, multi-armed giants with green mounds of cotton candy for hair. The smiles were big and colors plentiful—masterpieces in their own messy right.

Then we were shown the adult drawings of the same house and field and they were mere shells of the former works. Lines were tight and measured, detailing the edges of what was meant to be described. The flair of life was missing, replaced by hesitation and fear of getting a single line wrong.

This comparison also pertains to writing. Do you want to be that writer who merely sketches around the edges? Or do you mind getting a little messy from time to time and digging to the core of what you’re after? Instead of trying to write perfectly from the outset, hit your mark. You can always clean it up later, and striking the right cord is better than dancing around it.

If you’re comfortable with the way you write, there isn’t any reason to fix it. There are thousands of ways to write a book, and one isn’t necessarily more correct than another. It all depends on you.

But if your current process causes you grief from time to time, consider dialing it back to something more manageable. For this exercise, be supremely focused on the sentence coming out of you. Block out all distractions and any pressure that you’ve placed upon yourself. Do more with less. As long as it helps get you moving, that’s all that matters. Choose to be productive, one sentence at a time.

This is your time. Enjoy it. Unload the burden and allow yourself to embody the title that you hold dear, for today you are a writer!