THE BOOK DOCTOR
★ ★ ★ ★
HOW TO BRING THE ROMANCE BACK INTO YOUR WRITING LIFE
By Caroline Donahue
“If I wanted to be a writer enough, I would have written this book by now,” said every beginning writer who ever lived.
I have been thinking about this strange trick we play on ourselves a lot lately, since it’s one that I see in my clients, my students, and in myself. This notion that we can “want” ourselves into writing. It’s a dangerous idea, and one that I think prevents books — or articles or short stories — from ever coming into existence.
We think that wanting something is the ideal condition for having it. This idea didn’t just occur to us, we are actually trained to think this from a very young age. We go to school and are taught that we should want good grades and to strive for positive responses from our teachers. If a student played sports or did theater, the message was much the same: want that goal, or audition like you’ll die if you don’t get the part.
If we take a step back and think about the object of our desire as a person, then this starts to feel a little creepy. Just like many romantic comedies would feel much more like stalker case files if played out in real life, your writing does not want you to stalk it and squash the life out of it in order to conquer it on your time and your conditions. This is not what a writer is.
In addition to our education system misleading us, we also have this myth that artists make everything happen consciously and that they are a strange society of geniuses who know exactly what they are doing at every moment. Also incorrect.
Writing needs to be held loosely, and the desire to finish a project quickly shouldn’t be the one that is foremost in your mind. Think about your writing as a collaborator. Would you like it if your co-writer chased you up and down the street proclaiming that they had to have you? Or played a boombox under your window all night asking if we could please write now? No, I suspect you would not.
Writing is not about wanting it enough. This approach comes from a place of fear, one where the writer is grasping and uncertain if they are able to write the way they want, or if they are even permitted to try in the first place. Writing in this way does not feel good. There is another way.
If we were to flip the desire, however, it becomes more interesting. What if you were wooing your writing, rather than trying to crush it with your power? What if you set up your writing area like a romantic dinner table? Put a candle next to the computer, play some beautiful music, serve something delicious to drink (I tend to go with tea or coffee when I’m actually writing, rather than wine), and then connect with your writing.
We are not consciously producing every word we write. As I work on a scene in my novel, I am still surprised, even though I have an outline and I do know how it will all end. But little details appear as I write and this makes the process more fun for me, one that I want to return to day after day.
What if you sat down with your writing, and listened to what it wanted to say instead of feeling like you had to come up with everything? I think listening to the force of your project will take you much further than serenading it relentlessly, hoping you’ll end the process with a published work.
In a conversation with the wonderful Sarah Selecky, writer and creator of the online writing school I teach at, she compared writing the first draft to taking dictation. I always loved this image, because it acknowledges that the ideas coming through sometimes feel like a whisper in your mind instead of a roar.
What would it look like if you approached writing as a seduction of your story, rather than a grueling slog to ‘make’ it happen?
Try these tips this month and see how your writing develops:
1. Rework your writing space. Does it feel inspiring? Tidy? Atmospheric, even? The real question is: Would you bring a date to this writing space? If not, try rearranging it, adding a candle or a plant, even a nice throw blanket on the back of your chair to make things really cozy. (For tons of inspiration: there’s a new season of Queer Eye out, and Bobby is doing some amazing things with interior design, but I digress.)
2. Be okay with mystery. Ask yourself if it’s ok if you don’t know where some things that happen in your story come from. Turning this process into a romance with your writing, and therefore your creative self, means that things will get mysterious. This is good. It can also be scary, but as anyone who has ever gone on a rollercoaster on a date knows, this can often lead to fireworks.
3. Read as much as you can. If you’re only producing work and not fueling yourself, then you’ll feel dried out and like you have nothing to give your writing. Not very romantic. Read things that delight you, make you angry, things you hate and things you love. In essence, read everything and use it either as inspiration to become better or as validation that you can absolutely do this. It will give you something to talk about on your writing dates.
4. Take your project on a date. It could be at a cute cafe, but I dare you to be more pioneering than that. Sit in a museum with a notebook. Go to an actual restaurant and have a nice dinner — with wine even — and write there. No need to bring a computer to all of these places. Dare yourself to find the strangest place to work on your writing and try it. It’s a bit like finding unusual places for other romantic activities, if you know what I mean. Writing needs novelty just as much as anything else.
5. Let it be fun. If anything is serious all the time, then the fun leaves it instantly. It’s ok if writing is fun for you. That doesn’t mean you’re not a real writing. It’s the opposite, actually. Writers wouldn’t make this their career if it was torture all the time. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard.
And if all else fails, try writing naked. See what that shocks out of your story! (It is your book after all, and you can do what you like inside those pages.)
Happy writing… I can’t wait to hear reports of unusual writing scenarios popping up all over Berlin and beyond.
Caroline Donahue is an American writer, podcaster, and English teacher living in Berlin. She is the host of The Secret Library podcast and co-host of GTFO pod. She is the co-editor of I Wrote it Anyway: An Anthology of Essays, and the author of Story Arcana : Using Tarot for Writing. She is currently at work on her first novel. Learn more at carolinedonahue.com
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