Loosen Your Mind Sphincter

Do you know Howard “Wood” Ingham?

Guy who helped write some of the best and creepiest parts of the World of Darkness, and Hunter: The Vigil in particular? No? What about the guy who’s written some crazy powerful stuff that’s just sitting there, free for your eyeholes, right here on the web? Perhaps you know him from his short collection, Why The Others Were Taken…? Do you follow him on Twitter, at least? I mean, c’mon.

What I’m saying is, Wood’s been saying some interesting shit lately. See, he’s writing a novel. The approach he’s taking with this book is, best as I can tell, that he is writing a crazy apeshit insane coda of sex and violence all bundled up in a book that — at least, in theory, the market being what it is — commercially viable. This is not his normal style, though certainly in the game industry he’s rubbed elbows with it.

If I were to lend this approach name, I might call it, mmm, let’s see…

The “Who Gives A Fuck It’s Time To Kick Down My Brain Doors And See What Tumbles Out” Approach.

He has absolved himself of any worries over quality.

And in doing so, he seems to be coming along quite nicely.

And, even better, he seems to be enjoying the process overall.

Further, I know what will be the result, both in his first draft and moreso with subsequent drafts: the quality that he does not care about will be nevertheless present, like  a ghost he unwittingly invited into the room. Wood does not write without quality. He could write a pamphlet about the breeding habits of the curious cattle egret and, I promise you, it would be a deeply compelling and surprisingly artful pamphlet.

Wood is doing something very right, here. We could all use to take the lesson. That lesson, put brashly, is to loosen your mind sphincter a little bit — and open up the ol’ gag reflex — and let the novel come out of you. Or enter you, sexually, in the night, like an incubus. Uhhh. Wait, maybe that’s not it. No, no, what I mean to say is, you need to chill out. “Chillax,” as all the cool kids are saying.

Absolve yourself of worry. (For now.) Push fears of inadequacy and uncertainty toward the margins. Write what you can write, and — at least for your first novel — embrace the enjoyment of that.

Because here, I suspect, is the secret: if you’re relaxed about it — if, frankly, you don’t care so damn much — then you’re going to find that the novel flows more freely. You’re going to cross that finish line with far greater ease, and on the first draft it’s all about crossing the field of war without getting your head shot off. Crossing the finish line is the biggest thing that most wanna-be writers never do.

Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Don’t worry — you have a second, third, fifth, seventeenth, and five-hundred-and-forty-third draft if you want it and if the story needs it. Quality will live hidden in the margins of that first draft and subsequent drafts will help draw it to the surface. I’m not saying don’t plan, I’m not saying don’t think about what you’re doing, but I am saying give into it, and get shut of the pressure.

Don’t care so much.

You care too much, and that gives into worry.

And worry gives into fear.

And fear creates goiters.

No, wait — fear stops you from doing That Which Is Most Important when it comes time to write your novel: the actual writing of the novel. The part where you finish it. The part where you have a draft in your hands, all the words contained within rising to your ears like the beautiful cooing and burbling of a newborn baby. A newborn baby born from the sexual union of you and a night-stalking incubus. Mmm. “Baby Inky.”

Okay, I really need more coffee.

Write what you want to write. Write without abandon. Put worry out of your mind.

Write so that it’s fun to finish the book.

Now go say the Writer’s Prayer seven times backwards.

28 comments

  • The biggest problem I’m having right now is I decided to write a superhero book focusing on comedy and satire and I’m worried that it will just not be funny at all. Any advice for writing a book like that?

  • Write so that it’s fun to finish the book.

    I think that this is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard. And it works: my MC’s love interest just got shot, and I couldn’t be happier!

  • My biggest problem is just sitting down & writing. Once I sit down & actually write I am fine and try to have fun with it. I worry that my book is marketable, but I know this is the book I have to write so I plug on. Please keep writing this steaming pile of happiness, every wannabe writer should read your blog.

    ~JWH

  • I get the feeling you enjoy telling us to do stuff and we’ll actually do it too.

    I did it for my first novel. I wrote the damn thing. I finished it. But now it’s just sitting there.

    What advice do you have to when you finally DID finish it? How do you get yourself to work on it when reading the opening sentence wants you to cut out your own eyes and eat them?

    • @Amber:

      Good question. :)

      Actually, I devoted most of this month toward writing a novel since, y’know, it coincides with NaNoWriMo and all that.

      But December I’m devoting toward editing the novel.

      So, keep your grapes peeled!

      — c.

  • I really needed to read this today. I decided over the last couple of days that I don’t care if I get 50K words this month. Fuck it. I’m going to have a first draft of my first book. Sure, I’ll need to go back and flesh in some stuff here and there, clean some stuff up, but I’ll have followed my guys’ story from beginning to end. I’m going to be ecstatic about that instead of worrying about whether I met a word count or not.

  • A “crazy apeshit insane coda of sex and violence,” eh? Yep. That’s about the size of it.

    Chuck, I love you, with sweaty writerly man-love.

  • Oh, it’s not so melodramatic. I’m just taking one project too seriously (when I shouldn’t) while brain wants to vomit up the juices of something else entirely. So the question is do I marry the two, kick my brain out the window, or indulge and write something I enjoy (at the expense of the other)?

    • @Kate:

      The goal — for me, YMMV — is always to finish the thing you’re working on now. So, whatever it takes to make that fun, I’d say do that.

      Now, if you really can’t get behind it and you’re sure you won’t start Other Thing only to get distracted by a Third Thing, switch gears — whatever the fastest path toward “Finished Novel” is is the path to take.

      — c.

  • Thanks for putting Ingham’s twitter in the line hhaahahah
    Never laughed so much since when his avatar was Lucius Vorenus and mine was Titus Pullo.

    Continue doing a great job, you two.
    With Stolze, you two composes the evil triad of writers/RPG designers that I most admire. Actually, better than one certain famous RPG writer triad in my country, at least! hheheheh

    I’m planning to write for the NaNoWriMo next year, thanks to the advices in this blog. One year to improve my writing-in-english skills.

  • Thanks for the reminder. I am now taking a look at my zero draft from nanowrimo. I got weirded out because my thriller all the sudden took a sci-fi turn, but it was actually really good stuff. So have been feeling very conflicted…and, yeah, thinking too much, LOL.

    Thanks for the kick in the a$$.

    • I like to refer, sometimes, to Future Me.

      See, Future Me, he has a whole host of shit to worry about. I just need to remember that sometimes I can foist my problems off on Future Me.

      My first draft feels like a bunch of nonsense? Hey, fuck that. I’m just going to keep writing, keep having fun. I’m going to put a bucket on my head and run for the door.

      That’s Future Me’s problem.

      I mean, sure, those problems come home to roost when Present Chuck morphs into Future Me. But by then, I’ve gotten the coping skills and the proper draft to handle.

      — c.

  • Why not kill two birds with an autobiographical Christmas album? Replace all references to Jesus/Our Lord with “Kwisatz Haderach” and you’ve got a platinum record on your hands:

    “Away on Arakis, no crib for a bed. The little Kwisatz Haderach lay down his sweet head…”

    “Come, and behold him! Born the Shortener-of-the-Way! O, come let us adore him…”

    I’ll leave the rest to you.

  • So why is it when that kind of advice comes from the depths of nanowrimo.org, it’s something to be sneered at and when it comes from you, it’s golden?

    • @Catana:

      Hopefully you’re not just here for a little provocation?

      I’ll assume you’re not.

      A handful of things.

      First, I don’t sneer at NaNoWriMo, and more importantly, I don’t sneer at its participants. If it works for them, then they should do that. I don’t personally “do” the NaNo thing because it doesn’t work for me and I write on a year-around schedule that doesn’t afford me November as a personal-writing-only time.

      Second, yes, I do caution readers on the realities of NaNoWriMo — i.e. 50k is not a novel, please don’t send out your drafts in December to any agent or editor with an inbox, and don’t put yourself on a mission to write crap. Etc.

      It’s that last one that might be causing you some cognitive dissonance, and I understand that, so let me explain. NaNo exhorts participants to write “laughably awful” prose. It suggests that “aiming low” is the best way to get a novel done.

      I get what they’re saying. I think it’s noble advice, if a bit… inappropriately phrased.

      I might be arguing semantics, but I would suggest that trying to shake free the stress and obsession over quality is different from choosing to write awful prose.

      This post also makes clear that this is very much about subsequent drafts. It is not a one-and-done proposition. The general spread of NaNoWriMo information doesn’t really open up an official mechanism for additional drafts — so, I’m just trying to make clear that, no, you don’t need to stress out now. Future drafts are where the spit-and-polish come into play.

      Third and finally, in no way have I ever suggested my advice is golden. My writing is just me barking into the void. If someone tunes to my frequency and things its a ditty they can dance to, great. If not –? Hey, horses for courses. I do not contain truth. I don’t know the One Way of Doing Things. I just have a big bucket of crazy tools and sometimes I whip them out and shake them in front of my Internet Buddies like a monkey with a femur. Maybe they like what I’m showing them, maybe they don’t and check back later.

      — c.

  • Interestingly, this is happening with my Tour de Holmes. I started just writing it for me, but over the past twenty essays, I’ve realized that there’s a book in here somewhere. But I’m not worrying about trying to make it a book right now — I’m just having fun rereading these stories and ranting semi-coherently about Victorian mores and fictional mysteries. At some point, I’ll consolidate it and make it into a proper book, but for now I’m just having fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had writing in a while.

  • I started writing for my own pleasure and for a creative outlet. My husband refers to it as me “playing Barbies.” I have written every day for almost three years. When the first two years were up, I had six (rough) books in a series about one particular character. I abandoned all propriety and wrote the story that came out of me. They run the gamut of human emotion and action. They are violent, angry, include a good deal of wild sex and a few instances of rape, but they also have love, loyalty, courage, trust, friendship. I love every second that I spend with them.

    Although I doubt the series will ever be published, they have pushed me on to other works that have more potential. Even if it starts and spurts and I have to wring it out, I let the story tell itself, even if creepy, horrible, grotesque things happen. When I write this way and do it for myself, it makes me happy, and I don’t feel like a sell-out.

  • Chuck, no, neither provocation nor criticism of you. I was thinking in generalities, but expressed it poorly. It just seemed ironic that that particular advice is one of the points scored against NaNo by its naysayers. Yet it’s very good advice, and coming from you and Wood helps make it more acceptable. That’s what I meant by golden, not that you claimed it.

    I just won my second NaNo. Still writing, and have a zillion drafts to go. NaNo is the beginning of a book, not the end, not that the haters care as long as they can get their kicks from hating.

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