Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Just Write It

There was a big brouhaha on Absolute Write a week or two ago over a piece of advice frequently handed out there. It’s advice that is surely dispensed wherever writers gather, be it an internet forum, a conference, a book signing, or a café in Paris. The advice: Just Write It.
I’ve given this advice to people myself. Someone comes on the board and says they’ve been planning a project for months, and they had an idea for an opening scene, but now they’re thinking it might be better to start somewhere else and that’s throwing the whole thing off and I’ve been working on this plan for SO LONG and I really hate to start over what should I do?
Just Write It.
Another person has been writing a story in alternating points of view. They’re at a critical scene and planned to write it from character A’s point of view, but now they’re thinking maybe it should be from character B’s perspective, and they’re not sure what to do.
Just Write It.
The brouhaha arose because someone felt that “Just Write It” is used too often as a panacea, and that, without knowing the real problems the person is having, it may not be helpful, and could even be harmful. They also object to the imperative nature of the advice. An inexperienced writer, they argue, may think it’s the only solution, an absolute rule, and it could harm their development.
There may be some truth in this. Just Write It is not always the best solution. There are times when Just Write It is not the best option. It depends in part on what you’re writing and what your process is. There are times when the best option is to walk away from the story for a little while. There are times when you really do need to no more about legal procedures, a particular medical condition, or the New York City sewer system before you can proceed with your writing. By all means do your research, make sure you’re well-informed, but don’t use the need for research as an excuse to come to a complete stop. Get it done and get back to writing. Far too often, when I read threads on AW from people who are spinning their wheels, I’m reminded of this bit from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (40 seconds):
Substitute any and all of the following– “outlining,” “research,” “character biographies,”—for the word “discussion” in the clip above, and you’ve got a group of writers, not pseudo-revolutionaries.
Just Write It is not always the right answer, but it’s often the best one. If you find yourself saying, “I’ve got this great idea, but I don’t know how to begin,” Just Write It! Write what? Anything! Describe a character. Describe the room she’s in. Write about what he’s wearing, or what she sees from her window. Anything to get started. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Quite often, just writing something is enough to get the words flowing. In the case of the “which POV for this scene” question—Just Write It! Write them both. Sometimes that’s the only way to figure out which one works best. Yes, it’s extra work, but it’s not wasted writing or wasted time.
Have you ever found a time where Just Write It wasn’t the best solution for your problem? Tell me about it, and have a great weekend.

17 Responses

  1. That's the advice I have to give myself every day when I sit down and open my Word file. I don't know why I fight writing those first words, but I always do. And then, you know, I write one line and the rest starts flowing. I don't know why I'm like that. Fear of the blank page I guess.

    And Life of Brian is such a classic. :))

  2. Oh man. This is something I've come up against with my MG. I kind of feel like I should, Just Write It! But sometimes my brain doesn't work that way. Everything I write is wrong. So I step back and let the scene develop in my head. Simmer and cook. 😉 Then I sit down and it flows. Other times I make myself just write it, and that's what I need. I think this is good advice for those writers that flip flop around and use all the excuses in the world to not write it. So just like everything, there isn't only one answer to a problem.

  3. I do believe Just Write It is the best advice. Once you get started, things just seem to flow. You get more & more inspired. Who cares if you fly off on a tangent. You can always go back & fix it later. That's what revisions are for. You can't know what the right place to start is until you've started in the wrong place. Mistakes help you learn & teach you what works & what doesn't.

  4. I have–sometimes there are just bigger priorities than writing on the table, and if I just wrote it I'd be neglecting other vital things. But if it's writer's block that's the problem, or having a good idea and not knowing where to start, it's probably good advice.

  5. I am kind of perfectionist and sometimes I find it difficult to go with the Just write it advice. I am obsessed to figure things out before writing them. However, more often than not, I ended up just writing them even reluctantly. It works although often I come back and delete it.

  6. I like the idea of Just Write It. I'd like to consider myself someone who would think of that in a situation where I'm stuck without being told. Extra work doesn't scare me, so writing something that I end up deleting, or writing the same thing twice from different P.O.Vs isn't a bother. It's fun and it's helpful and rewarding. While it's not an absolute rule, there is definitely some merit in it.

  7. I think Life of Brian gets overlooked. It's a touchy subject, obviously, but definitely a classic.

    That blank page can be intimidating, can't it?

  8. Thanks, Richard. I'll say, some of it depends on your particular style, but at some point you've got to write. And if you're a planner, you have to write your plan down, too.

  9. Al, thanks for commenting. While I am a big proponent of 'Just Write It,' it is not a cure-all for everyone, and I think it does require a certain degree of self-awareness, which comes with time and practice. But I think sometimes people get stuck, or they get into overthinking, or they start procrastinating, and that's when Just Write It is probably the best thing to do.

  10. It's not meant as a rule, which is why I think some folks over at AW objected to the way it gets thrown about, like it's a cure-all for everything, and a hard and fast rule, to boot.

    And even if it was a 'Rule', we all know that writing rules are meant to be broken!

  11. All rules are meant to be broken! But I just thought I'd drop by and let you know that this post was EXACTLY what I needed to read, because guess what I did after reading this? 2,700 words of a first chapter. Thank you for making this post JeffO 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Updates

For announcements, alerts and special offers, subscribe to our emails.  Please note, you will have to confirm your subscription through an email to the address you provide.

Follow Jeff O'Handley

Jeff O'Handley ©2024 - All Rights Reserved.