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.