Most writers write a hell of a lot of crap before (and during, and after) they write something good. Regarding that crap: when I'm blocked, I often turn to my favorite exercise book, Brian Kiteley's The 3am Epiphany, and choose a page at random. Sometimes I work hard to make the exercise a creditable work, and sometimes I just write to get the thoughts flowing again. It works. Like Liquid Drano, it works. The words flow again. But there's still one issue to be conquered--probably the most pernicious. Perfectionism. I told myself I'd never post stuff here unless it was perfect. Well screw that. Here's my writing at its most unedited, slushiest form. About something trite and motivational. The exercise asked me to write 500 words using only imperatives. This is all I could come up with. A rushed loosening of the word bowels in my head.
Write. Take up the pencil and pad, or pen and parchment, or keyboard and screen, or lipstick and napkin. Make marks. Make a scribble, make a scrawl, make a right-slanted ladder with your southpaw. Don’t bother with calligraphy—that’s stalling. Turn the marks into your letters. Turn the letters into your words. Be an alchemist. See the paragraphs? Or avoid the paragraphs, but don’t avoid the kōan of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling. Don’t expect tomatoes without a trellis. And your tomatoes—your perky little red characters, scurrying around on your page, or your screen, or your napkin—make them your people, but also everyone’s people. Don’t leave your people eating the same soup and the same bread. Don’t give them the same trees, or the same bends in their moonlit paths. Don’t expect their adjectives to line up like ducks, waddling into padded cells. Forgive their individual preferences, and catalogue them. Make them suffer, make them die. Give them redemption. Suffer the purgatory of authorship. Cover the page: a blank place is an abomination, the writer’s hell. Follow Dante to your muse, but don’t expect bliss—this isn’t your Beatrice. Expect criticism. Better yet, welcome criticism. Encourage criticism. Practice ways of agreeing with criticism. Become the yogi of the critical. Get zen with your critics. Practice seeing the points of view from real people, and your imaginary people will become real.
Drop what you’re doing, but not the baby. Bounce the baby, if you must. Use its screams to enhance your frustration. Rock the frustration into the page. Lead your sentences with milk-sops. Give your wailing writing block an unwashed pacifier. Suckle your sweetest lines from the breast, before editors come with their five colors, their rice gruel, their cheap soy. Become sleepless, but don’t let your passage cry it out. Cradle your words: you can never give them enough attention. But don’t let the little mites walk over you—they’ll learn to do that, once they start walking. Behold your characters speaking on their own, doing their own blathering things, ruining your careful plots like self-important kittens in your yarn stash. Learn to twine red and green and find the compliment in it. Knit your characters socks for their oranges, their coal. Just don’t forget to fill them: an unfinished chapter is an empty Christmas indeed.
Watch how the lines begin to stretch thin, your hands and mind faltering. Continue shoveling fresh words onto your mound of slush, for surely an editor will leave you a few sentences, or a few words, untouched. Do not blame the editor, even though the public’s disdain of your writing is more her fault than yours. Go ahead and write what you feel, the blank page long forgotten—you’ve jumped from the ledge, and only a coward would waste time looking up or down or doing anything but experiencing the flight. Land eventually, and land on your feet. Let your editor decide if what you wrote will merit a trip to the hospital.