I came up with a new series of stories yesterday. I did it by writing utter crap that I knew was terrible.
By setting a word minimum for writing, I sometimes find myself with days where the inspiration isn’t there and I don’t have any notes to work with. I basically have no idea what to write, have no inspiration to write, but still got make it happen. So I dove in and started writing a completely new story, just making it up as I went. New characters, new premise, etc. And it was crap. Total and complete crap.
But it allowed me to explore an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of before. By writing this totally awful story, I was able to form an idea on not only a much better story, but to draw in disparate elements from other stories.
See, I write on individual projects in spurts. I’ll work on this project for a bit, and then jump to that project if and when the inspiration strikes. This allows me to stay fresh, keep excited, follow my inspiration, but also to still put in the time. I have quarterly goals that I set for myself, but during a given twelve weeks, I’ll more or less write on any one of about a dozen projects. And occasionally more still.
If the inspiration is just there to work on something totally different, I’ll just write a paragraph, scene, chapter, whatever, of a totally different story. This means I have a vast library of snippets of stories and scenes, many of which I have no plans for or even an idea for how to publish them. Some of them are just too undeveloped and I’ve got too much on my plate right now to invest the time consciously developing them.
And then the story yesterday happened.
By writing this complete toss-away story, I crystalized not only this new idea, but also how to bring to life a few other stories, weaving them together into a new tale that I think will be a lot of fun.
The takeaway from this should be to always write.
Let me repeat that for those in the back: ALWAYS WRITE
Will there be an audience? Doesn’t matter.
Is it any good? Doesn’t matter.
Does it make sense? Doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you put in the time. There is a component of raw output when it comes to the arts. You’ve heard that quote about needing to put 10,000 hours to get good at something? Yeah, that number is probably grossly inflated and with some intelligent effort, you can shave a whole bunch off of it. But you still got to put in the time. And in the arts, that means producing work. In writing, that means…well, writing. You got to write.
If you write, you get better at writing. Yes, workshops and seminars and manuals and writing circles and all that jazz might help, but nothing will make you a better writer than actually writing.
Now for the disclaimer. There’s a counter-element to this. Writing too much can be counterproductive. You can write yourself into burnout and then, oh yes, writing will make you worse of a writer. You have to strike a balance, a balance which is individual to each person. If you aren’t sure, start with a single page a day. If you can go a full month, produce a page of writing, and still feel like you’ve got more in you, then you can start creeping it up. And the opposite. If you struggle to produce that one page each day, cut it back to half a page and see how that goes.
But assuming you aren’t blowing your own mind with overwork, the takeaway should still be to always write.
Yes, you’ll produce utter crap. That’s part of the process. The process of practice, but also the creative process. It will take you four bad short stories to produce one good short story. If you can up that number to four bad short stories to produce two good short stories, consider yourself ahead of most every other writer on the planet.
Bad writing also frees you from concerns of quality. If you aren’t worried about whether or not the story is good, whether or not it will sell, whether or not readers will enjoy it, you can explore new narrative types, new tropes, new characters, new storytelling options. In effect, if you stop worrying about making it publishable, you can explore the medium. This is what differentiates a writer (one who writes) from an author (one who makes money off writing). The author has to worry about marketability and sales, a writer doesn’t. Spend more time as a writer, and the author side of things will mostly take care of themselves.
But the takeaway hasn’t changed: Always Write.
All these new stories are needed for me to keep my head up. It’s a scary, depressing time in the world and art is needed now more than ever. Not just for the audiences, but for the artists themselves. Nothing has been placed on the backburner, and I’m still planning on rolling out a bunch of new projects over the remainder of the year (new short stories or maybe the return of the serials, as well as that statistical paper series). But I’m just not breaking my neck to get stuff ready when moving at a bit more casual of pace can ensure greater quality. And ensure that I can maintain this production schedule. I’ve burned out twice in the last decade and it took me a long time (months) to recover. I don’t want to make that mistake by getting overly ambitious again.
That said, another reason for my sloth in bringing out these new projects is because the old projects are still clogged in the works. RocKaiju is still delayed at the publisher. I have assurances it will be available for Anime Mid-Atlantic in June, but then I had assurances it would be available for Katsucon back in February…and before that, MAGFest in January. And before that, we were talking about maybe having it at Anime USA in November. So all I can say at this point is, we’ll see.