Advice For Writing; Or, What I Know So Far, Which Might Actually Be Nothing At All

by Jen Doll

How Not to Write Something

1. Don’t have a deadline. Or if you do have a deadline, make it a deadline that you made up in your head and your agent or editor agreed to when you said it out loud but then you quickly dismissed it, much like you dismissed the established required hours of your work-study job back in college, because who’s really keeping track? Certainly not you. Deadlines, schmeadlines! You’ll get to it when you get to it, which is to say, never.

2. Keep a close eye on your Twitter account. Important things may be said there that you will be expected to weigh in on, and if you don’t, everyone will wonder if you fell asleep in the bathroom stall of the bar last night and are still there, head sunken low next to the toilet, one lost contact lens embedded somewhere in the floor grime. Make sure they know you’re not; that was the you of 100 million years ago. Or, for a fun joke, pretend you’re still there. “Hey, can anyone let me out of this stall??? HellooOOO??? GUYS. GUYS.” 140-minus characters is still writing, of a sort.

3. The above goes for Facebook, Instagram, Gchat, IM, text messages, phone calls, snail-mail, carrier pigeon, whatever it is that you use to communicate regularly with other humans by way of a secondary vehicle. Make sure you’re returning to those vehicles regularly because if you’re not, are they even still there? Are you? What if you disappear completely from this world, the Internet, and no one even notices? That would be a nightmare of modern proportions. So, just as you’re about to write your first evocative-important-profound-distinguished-hiliarious-and-also-elegant sentence, stop for a minute. Was that a gchat beep? Have you received an email meant for the other Jen Doll who has a career in baby photography? Circle back to check immediately. Allow anything and everything to interrupt you from the task at hand. Gchat waits for no woman. A Google Hangout, are you ever going to have one of those again? If you’ve lost the thread of what you were about to write by the time you return to writing, well, of course you have.

4. Have no idea, literally, actually, no idea whatsoever, what you want to write. Talk about it a lot, what you might write, because this makes you feel like you’re doing something, and isn’t talking basically just writing with your face? But really, in your heartest of hearts, be clueless. This is a justification for your procrastination, because surely all this time your mind is thunk-thunking, work-working at what you want to accomplish, right? And once it gets there, the words will flow from your fingertips like you’re making wine out of water, or words out of finger movements. Easy, breezy, writerly.

5. Because you have no idea what to write, write what other people tell you to write. Pretend that’s what you wanted to write. Really try to believe it, despite that feeling in your gut that says no, no, please stop, stop wasting your time, this is not it not it not it. Think that if you can’t write whatever people want you to write you are useless as a writer. Think that if you can’t write pretty much everything, everything everyone else is writing, that you’re useless, or that if you’re doing something different that no one seems to want or care about, you’re useless. Think that if it’s not perfect the first time, if you need editing, if you want editing, if the edits are tough, you’re useless. Think that if no one will get back to you, you’re useless. And then give up.

6. Trust no one. Not even yourself. And certainly not an editor, an agent, a publisher, your mom or dad or boyfriend or girlfriend or therapist, or anyone who believes you can write. Correction: Trust only the ones who tell you you’re not good enough, or that you’re never going to get another chance, or that you should have done much, much better. Believe them implicitly and let the paralysis of that judgment fill your heart and brain and shut you down. Insurance, insurance is a good business…

7. Read the comments. Read ’em, believe ’em, cross-stitch them onto a pillow and sleep with your head on it at night. “TL;DR,” “You ruined the Internet!” and “This is the most vapid thing I have ever read” : Let those aphorisms be your spirit guide as you walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt. You will dehydrate very quickly in that valley.

8. Alternatively: Consider your first draft perfect.

How to Write Something

1. In the midst of considering the thing you have to write, the thing that’s sitting on your chest like a baby elephant or an overstuffed suitcase that you’re going to have to pay extra for, goddammit Delta!, the thing that’s making it a little bit hard to breathe or reach for the Klonopin, allow a flash to come to you, allow yourself to stop thinking about the one deadline and just write whatever happens to be in your mind, like, maybe, this thing about how not to write anything. Allow yourself to have a little fun.

2. Live. Do some stuff. Go outside. Walk. Read. I know, I know, get off the computer now and again, not always, certainly not always, but sometimes. Every once in a while free yourself from the chains of feeling like you must report back on all you do to the sucking maw of the Internet, feeling like you must be part of the conversation lest you fail to exist entirely. And then, when you return to it, all will be well and you will feel like you really did live, just a little bit, differently than before. Maybe you will find you have something to write about! Maybe you will have some new conversations!

3. Believe you can. Surround yourself with people who believe you can. Take a tiny tiny moment to let yourself believe you can. When you feel shame, drink, or maybe, go to the gym. Trust yourself, but with healthy dollops of shame and self-loathing. This is normal. All this is normal.

4. Write. Pen to paper. Fingers to keys. Let your brain fill with words and spit them out in that way you do, like an angry camel, or let them fall out in a marble-like scattering as if your purse had toppled over and released its contents to the world, even if those words are terrible, or you think they’re terrible. Do it again and again, and go back to them and do it again. The only way to truly not write is to simply not write. So, as a good friend once told me, “Open the document.”

5. And close the other stuff. Just for a minute.

Previously: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Scary Stories by Women, About Women

Photo via jre/flickr.

Jen Doll is a regular contributor to The Hairpin.