Show – Don’t Tell. This should be every writer’s rule. To showcase this, I’ve made a visual breakdown of the scene from “The Shining” where Danny Torrence meets those scary dead twins.
No talking head syndrome.
No over the top action.
Simple, visual cues.
Every writer should be telling a story with pictures. Not telling a story with special effects, dialogue, crappy voice-over narration, etc.
Exercise: Try storyboarding a short film or short story where there is no dialogue, and simple action. You’d be surprised how this can improve your writing.
I always love this argument, because so many writers I know make excuses as to why they cannot write or have no time to write. The fact of the matter is, very seldom is it impossible to write.
I really love Stephen King’s autobiographical memoir on the craft of writing, appropriately titled On Writing. The last half of the book is written after Mr. King suffered a nearly fatal accident while out for a walk. A man who was drunk hit King with his car, sending King into the ditch in a twisted mess. Even through the excruciating rehab, and long days spent in pain, Stephen King kept on writing. For him, there was nothing else.
George Orwell while in his hospital deathbed, insisted on having his typewriter brought to his room, so that he might type away his dying days.
“I don’t have the time” is a terrible excuse. If you want to take yourself seriously as a writer, you have to know that writers MAKE the time. There will always be laundry, chores, socializing, jobs, and obligatory events you’ll need to attend. Single mothers find the time to write. Why can’t you?
Unfortunately, I know exactly what it feels like ‘having no time’ to write. When I first started writing, I thought it would be a walk in the park. I underestimated the process and took it for granted. I thought writers just hammered out magic, and that was it. I didn’t understand that writing is about re-writing. I didn’t understand that I’d have to fight with friends and relatives for time to write.
The biggest lesson any writer must learn, is that you must set aside time for yourself to write. I don’t have the luxury of being a millionaire with endless time and expenses at my disposal. Writing is not a ‘sometimes’ hobby for me. If you don’t think you can commit to waking up early, going to bed late, setting aside one or two days a week, or making yourself off-limits before 12:00 noon, maybe you need to reconsider what’s actually stopping you.
If you asked famed scientist Stephen Hawking what’s stopping him, victim of the paralyzing disease (ALS), he would laugh at you with his DECtalk speech-synthesizer.
Writers could learn a thing or two from the prisoners in the 1963 film The Great Escape directed by John Sturges. All of us need to learn to be great escape artists.
One of the most difficult tasks that I’ve faced as a writer, is finding a balance between time for others, and time for my writing. Friends and family start to look at you funny when you tell them how you can’t hang out or go anywhere, “I have to do some writing.”
“You already wrote once this week” one family member may whine, as if writing once a week was all we needed.
You aren’t being selfish when you take time for yourself, just as you aren’t being selfish to your inner writer when you decide to take time to be with other people. The importance is a balance.
Roald Dahl, author of many famous children’s books such as Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach would retreat to a writing hut in his backyard for many hours of the day. The windows were blacked out, and he demanded not to be disturbed while in his ‘sanctuary’. However, once he had finished writing for the day, he would emerge from his retreat, and spend time with his family.
Other people give us energy. They are refreshing, and can help us emerge from terrible writer’s blocks. The point is to not let people take all of your time. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (A book I cannot recommend enough for creative recovery) suggests to take one day a week, in which you practice an ‘artist’s date’. One day that’s all yours to explore an old shop, to go see a movie, or to take a walk through a park. The point is that this day is set aside for you, and you alone.
One of my favourite authors Stephen King, marches himself up to his office everyday. Once he shuts the door, King claims,
“The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”
Stephen King, On Writing
Then however, King suggests that once you’re done your first draft, it’s important to open the door, letting the energy of others flow into your work. The point is finding a balance.
I know that sometimes, it feels like you have to crawl on your hands and knees for miles just to get some time to yourself, especially if you are a mother, or work a full time job to support a family,
but just think of how great it’ll feel once you taste the sweet victory of freedom.
So don’t be afraid to tell people you’re off limits for a few hours. There is always a power button for your cellphone. There is always a switch or a way to unplug your internet. Sometimes we have to be great escape artists, and high-tail it away from others keeping us from our blank page.
Another useful Stephen King interview! Definitely worth a watch!
How many pages of writing have you done today?
One of my favorite pieces of advice from any writer comes from Mr. Stephen King. Here’s a short 1:13 video that’s worth a quick watch.
Have you read a chapter of a book today?