The writer’s super power

Yep. Writers have a super power. It’s not dreaming up fantasy realms or talking to characters in our heads, either. What we do better than anyone else is say yes to the power of our voice, even for just a short time.

We’ve all read books where the words leap off the pages at us, then depart as we breathe out a humid sigh. Some of them clutch us in solidarity: We think, ‘Oh, it’s not just me.’ We hold our breath, clench stomach muscles, and rush to turn the page. They speak to us, rip open our chests and beat in time with our hearts. It happens. With truly great, honest-to-God, gut-wrenching writing, it happens frequently.

What those writers know better than anyone is fear has no place in this craft. They stare it down with a big, old ‘fuck you.’ But even beginning writers have an innate ability, to pause how the outside world measures them. They believe they have something to say, and that someone will want to hear it. They believe in themselves enough to put pen to page and try to make sense of their world.

That’s huge.

Writing takes courage. Maybe that’s why writers make up less than 1 percent of the population. Fear is about all that prevents writers from creating their best.

writers' super power graphicI’ve spent my entire writing life talking to others about how to make fear their bitch. I mean, if you’re going to bring your readers into the story with you, if you want them to feel your damp shirt sticking to your back while you climb that cliff, then you really can’t be worrying about what other people might think. Writing is a two-step process, and neither step involves weighing the opinion of the masses.

We create, write. Then we critique, edit. Those functions use two distinct sections of our mind. It’s damn near impossible to do both at the same time. And if you try, you will likely find yourself “stuck” or “blocked.”

First, let’s talk about getting the words on the page. During this step, we need to shut off the internal editor. No re-working scenes, swapping paragraphs, grabbing the thesaurus. When you’re only objective is to create, you should not be judging. Instead, practice writing whatever pops into your head. Don’t hedge. Don’t think. Just write. It has actually been scientifically proven that the more you do this, the more your creativity improves. Without a little voice inside questioning everything, you can let loose. That’s when many writers find their very best words.

The second part of writing is to critique. This is when we decide what stays and what goes. What could be said better, or what’s just superfluous. When you’re looking to edit and place words “just so,” your brain does not readily accept anything that crops up as appropriate. In those moments, you are trained to detach and doubt. So if you’re searching for better ideas, descriptions – inspiration – then you must be open to everything.

This is the point – and it’s big, so pay attention → You will not improve your imagination and resourcefulness, nor generate new and better ideas, if you do not open your mind to every bad idea as well. Accepting every thought that arrives (whether it’s crazy good or utter crap) builds creative muscle. Editing cannot be allowed during the creative phase.

In sum, my little chickens, once you learn to separate creating and editing, your writing will improve. Once you lose the fear of what you might say – of your truth, of someone else’s judgement – your words will begin to flow effortlessly.

The better you become at losing the self-editor, the more good ideas you will generate. Knowing that you will be editing later actually frees you up to go further and further into new territory. Write a paragraph of single words unrelated to the next. Imagine a scent and write ten adjectives that describe it. Be crazy. Who cares? We’ll edit later.

“By the way, what shape are your nonsensical words? Flat and dull? Sharp and intuitive?” (That’s me, writing without editing.)

We all inherently know how to be critical, perhaps a little too well. We’re writers. What we need to practice is letting loose, creating. We need to celebrate that we’re already among the “less than 1 percent” who has the balls to say what needs to be said. Remember that when you sit down at the keyboard. This is what helps to bring the raw, unencumbered you out onto the page…

You already have a super power. Use it to write on your terms, in a way you feel good about, with your own honest-to-God, gut-wrenching voice.

Because, if you let it, it will change everything.

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Each week, and Laura Howard bring you a weekly writing prompt that kicks you in the ass. The assignment: Let go and have fun. No editing. No second thoughts. And absolutely no using the delete key. We call it “Just Write,” and it is designed to build creative muscle. It’s a free-writing exercise, where we literally post what pops into our heads. And it’s a blast. Read more here.

If you love a writer …

Today, I offer you a delicious guest post from author Eileen Flanagan, originally printed at her place in July 2009. It appears here with permission.

After ten years of writing around my children’s schedules, I have a book coming out soon, and friends have been asking what they can do to support me. I’ve been touched by their offers and yet reticent to ask too much, especially of busy people in a tough economy. At the same time, the online writers groups I belong to are a buzz day and night with authors trying to figure out how to publicize their work before the entire publishing industry goes bankrupt.

So, as a community service, I’ve decided to write up ten suggestions for all the people who love a book author who’s been fighting the publicity odds. (Fellow writers, feel free to forward this link or add your own suggestions in the comment section.):

1.   Buy your friend’s book. If you can afford it, buy it for everyone in your extended family. If you can’t afford it, ask your local librarian to order a copy. In fact, you can suggest it to your librarian whether you buy a copy yourself or not.

2.   Don’t wait until Christmas or Hanukkah to pick up a copy. How it does in its first weeks determines whether a book will stay on the bookstore shelves or be sent back to the warehouse to be shredded (along with your friend’s ego). Try to buy it as soon as it’s published, or better yet pre-order a copy, which makes your friend look good and gets your friend’s publisher excited about the book’s prospects. An excited publisher will invest more in publicity, while a bookstore that is getting advanced orders is more likely to stock the book on its shelves.

3.   Friends often ask where they should get the book, which is a tricky question. In the long-term, it is in every writer’s best interest to support independent booksellers (reader’s too, actually). If you don’t have a favorite one yourself, you can go to IndieBound to find one near you. When a book is newly released, however, it may help your writer friend more to buy it through a big chain, so they keep it stocked where the most people can find it. Likewise, a high sales rate on Amazon can get people’s attention, and if your friend’s website links directly to Amazon, she may be part of a program where she makes extra money when someone enters Amazon through the link on her website and then makes a purchase. I personally have links to several booksellers,  on the theory that it’s good to spread the love around.

4.   If you genuinely like your friend’s book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, mention it on Facebook and Twitter, and recommend it to your book group.

5.   If your friend’s book is sci-fi, and you’re more of a Jhumpa Lahiri fan, say something like, “I’m so proud of you for following your passion,” and skip writing the review.

6.   If your friend is a good public speaker, recommend her to your church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, kid’s school, Rotary club, etc. If you live far away, your friend might get to come visit you and write it off her taxes.

7.   If you have a website or blog, link to your friend’s website. The more people who link to her, the better she looks to the search engines, which may help people who don’t already love her to find her book. To be really helpful, don’t link on the words “my friend,” but on whatever keywords your friend might be using to find her target audience. (For example, I would especially appreciate people using the phrase “Serenity Prayer” to link to my page About the Serenity Prayer.)

8.   If your friend could legitimately be a reference on some Wikipedia page, add her as one, with a link to the most relevant page of her website. Authors can’t tout themselves on Wikipedia without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame, but there is nothing more fun for a writer than discovering a spike in her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa.

9.   Don’t ask your friend if she has thought about trying to get on Oprah. Trust me– she’s thought of that.

10. If you pray, go ahead. It couldn’t hurt to pray she gets on Oprah.

 • • •

“Say My Name” is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to click “like.”