The Single Most Way Writers Sabotage Themselves

What do writers do? We write; we sculpt and mold words into breathtaking displays of art that will, hopefully, endear themselves to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world.

How do writers do this? We touch fingertips to keypads, or scratch and mar clean, white sheets of paper with ink or graphite sticks; we lay down line after line of scratchy, spidery letters or pound out digitally-formed words until letters transmogrify into ruthless villains, romantic love interests, or thrilling action sequences.

What keeps a writer from doing all this?  Our own Big. Fat. Mouths. 

Whaaat, B.C.?!

I’ve been in the writing game a lot of years (don’t let my youthful face fool you).  I was picking up a pencil to write before I even understood rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling properly. But those things, while important when being published, aren’t all that terribly important while writing. What is important are the stories – the words being put down on the paper.

A great thing happens to writers when they get a story idea. I’m not saying it’s the same for all of us, but I know quite a few writers, and they all agree, the initial reaction to a story is very similar: we wake up in the middle of the night/wake up in the middle of the day/wake up from our boring desk job/wake up from sitting in traffic with screaming kids in the back seat/wake up from whatever boring-ass instance is your regular life at that moment to a fantastic vision unfolding before your inner movie theater like a delicate flower opening for a spring shower. You fly/drive/walk/snatch at your notebook/netbook/desktop and write furiously, trying your best to describe the scene blooming before your mind’s eye as it whips by at lightning speed. Your brain’s synapses go off in one great firework show of electrical activity, and you feel you could solve the world’s problems in those moments, but all you care about is the scene and people in your imagination – nothing else exists. And then the world melts away and only your world remains. And, after the orgasmic surge of creativity, the scene before you begins to fade out, the pulse jumping in your neck slows, and the world returns to you in all it’s dull black-and-whiteness.  You’re left spent, exhausted, and euphoric.  And, like any other act that sends you spiraling to the heights of pleasure, you want it all back.

Sounds great, right?  It’s fan-fucking-tastic, let me tell you.  This initial response to writing is not what screws up writers, however. As you can see, it’s fairly primal – the urge overcomes us and takes over our lives for a short time.  What fucks over the average writer time and time again is what happens AFTER that initial surge tapers off.  

Enter our Big. Fat. Mouths.

It’s human nature to want to share with others anything that makes us giddy and euphoric, causes us enough intense satisfaction that we are bursting from the residual feeling of it.  This need to share with others is what starts writers on their road to ruin, as I like to call it.

Words are a writers stock and trade.  Specifically, putting words onto paper is our stock and trade.  When we open our mouths and start “talking” about our projects, we release beautiful words into the ether that we can’t get back.  Sometimes, these small releases are tiny, tiny leaks, barely noticeable.  They may be hints on Twitter or Facebook or any social network like “Researching…Anyone know about poisons?” or “What do you prefer for romances, 1st person or 3rd person POV?”  I call these small leaks “balloon squeaks.”  If you pull the lip of the balloon tight and let it slack for the smallest moment, the balloon makes the faintest of squeaks.  Not a lot of air lost, right? So no big deal.

The second time we open our big fat mouths is to simply mention, to a friend/colleague/whatever, what we’re working on.   This happens most often in social circles.  We go out to lunch with a fellow writer, or maybe just someone who takes an active interest in our writing (yes, those people DO exist fellow writers), and the conversation turns to what you’re doing at the moment.  “Oh well, I’m working on this new idea for a western romance.  It’s about the guy who…”  I call this leak “slow-steady-and-maintained.”  This is the type of leak that has a short term, finite lifespan; we’re only going to describe it, but not go into too many details.  Definitely more words lost here, but it’s only a book blurb so who cares?

The third time, and probably the near-death of the stories we write, is what happens when we need to “brain storm” an idea.  This is the hardest and trickiest time of writing, in this writer’s opinion.  This instance happens when we’ve been good little boys and girls, kept our mouths shut and our fingers to the keypad, and written our little hearts out.  BUT, for whatever reason, the story stagnates or we find ourselves written into a corner, and we reach out for moral support and/or guidance to help us re-achieve the fleeing euphoria we had in such abundance.  Because who doesn’t want to live life in an orgasmic state?!  

Talking about a story, brain storming it so to speak, can be exactly what the author needs to get their tale jump-started and back to full steam.  It can also be the devastating force that kills a story, and there is a fine line between the two.  Like with anything, a subject can be talked to death.  This is where an author overtalks and overthinks the story, trying to talk out every detail, iron out every wrinkle, before they begin writing or re-writing.  Talk about killing an idea.  I mean, why would you want to sit down to write it afterwards?  You’ve already written the story once, albeit it verbalized form, so why do it again; nobody likes to work twice as hard for one reward.  This type of leak is called the “dam breaker.”  The story floods out in a gush and gets soaked into the surrounding area instead of into the paper/screen where it needs to be.

By brain storming, however, verbally, an author can jump-start a derailed storyline because they gain valuable insight from others.  This is the old adage that nobody sees all of the angles, all of the time.  It’s very much true of writing.  We know our stories inside and out, know every crook and cranny, every ledge and crack….BUT we may have overlooked or missed something because we were too focused on the main storyline or the main characters.  This has personally happened to me; I spent so long focusing on the main character in my story, I’d overlooked a key support character who had an awesome opportunity to unlock the whole story and open a separate, rich storyline within the story, making it richer and better for it’s layers.  When a writer can use this brain storming effectively, it’s still a leak.  However, an object that becomes over-pressurized can often develop a useful leak, letting off just enough steam to make it “safe” again.  This kind of leak I like to call “the Regulator.”  It keeps the work in progress at an even keel.

What the author has to realize is happening, and know how to effectively control, is the level of leak they have.  A “balloon squeaker” isn’t harmful, can generate interest among fans, and can garner some much needed input (such as research information); the “slow-and-steady-and-maintained” is most often used to elicit stimulus of the fan-base, and can whip followers into a frenzy for an upcoming project (but be careful to use this type of leak effectively, don’t whip your fan base into a frenzy ten months before the project can even be completed).  Using “the Regulator” to keep a story rolling when it begins to feel flaccid is great, but know what this type of verbal brain storm is a slippery slope.  An author can and will find themselves the victims of a “dam breaker” in short time if they don’t learn to harness their Big. Fat. Mouth.

Happy writing!

B.C. Brown
published in Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction and author of A Touch of Darkness

2 thoughts on “The Single Most Way Writers Sabotage Themselves”

  1. I get you. I typically share very little of a WIP and, then, only segments I feel confident are finished. Then, they're a crumb trail to the meal.

  2. Nice. I find there's one other thing my own big fat mouth does that it damn well shouldn't. It says to a writer pal, "Hey, would you read this thing I'm working on." Kiss of death if it's too soon in the process; kiss of agonized death if I'm at really close to final draft stage and she or he hates it…or gives me sheathes of input along the lines of "change this, move that, focus here, dig there…"

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