The world wide web is positively brimming with advice. And for writers, this advice sometimes seems to be leaking from every electronic orifice in existence. What's more, it usually is not faulty or bad advice; the tips one finds online are often fabulous, helpful, and insightful--born out of hard-earned experience and bloodshed.
It's tempting sometimes to read everything with the attitude of a dehydrated camel: drinking it all in with the determined intent to store up and use it later. I am continuously finding myself thinking things like, Of course! That's the problem! That's why I don't have an agent yet! and then immediately setting myself to the task of reorienting my writing habits to accommodate whatever new tidbit of advice or knowledge I have just found.
But here's what I've discovered lately: it gets overwhelming.
When I was in highschool, I played softball. (Yes, it's amazing, I know.) Before I began to play at such a competitive level, I had had very little technical training. My batting, for example, had never been critiqued; but even so, I was a fair enough hitter. In fact, I had a respectable store of home-runs on my record. But on my high-school team, there was a certain way of batting that every player had to learn--regardless of how well one could hit on one's own.
It transpired that I was absolute rubbish at the new technique. But I pressed on at my coach's insistence; learning her method, drilling the old way out of me until... I simply couldn't hit at all. Either way. An infield grounder on average was my best hit, and I bid farewell to anything better than shallow right-field on a good day. All the advice and training my coach was convinced would make me a better player actually killed both the promise of any improvement and the talent I had come in with.
Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to learn writing techniques from those who have gone before, or those who have more experience. We should. Those methods are full of wisdom, and have been tested and deemed successful. But we also shouldn't focus so much on what we think we should be doing that we lose all the natural writing instinct we came into this job with. The instincts and talents born out of an unsullied love for reading, or a pure desire to tell stories. Because when we lose those, I believe we also lose our ability to write with passion and love.
Also when I was in high-school, I wrote my first book. And I won't say it was good (it wasn't), but I loved every minute of it. I wasn't concerned with making it publishable, or writing a story readers would adore, or appealing to agents and editors. I didn't even think of trying to publish it. All I thought was that I had a story I needed to tell, and that I had to get it down on paper or die from the effort of holding it in. I wrote in a spiral notebook which I carried everywhere, and I stole every possible moment to scribble down words in it.
It was intoxicating, that kind of storytelling.
Lately, I've lost that passion. With the desire to publish has come an obsessively ambitious drive that sometimes makes it difficult to write purely for the joy of writing. I want to criticize everything that drops onto the page, search it for all the elements I feel I should include in a publishable story. I shove out my natural impulses in favor of the advice I have read. And it is all good advice. But that advice should not come first. I believe, first and foremost, we should tell a story organically; the way it comes most natural to us. And then, we should try and test it against the methods and elements we believe it should include.
Because how else can we write with passion?
What about you? When you write, do you ever find yourself caught up in a list of To-Do's, trying to include a billion things you know should be present, rather than just letting yourself write? How do you handle it? And if not, how do you keep out the extra stuff and allow your instinctive writer to take over?