What I’m learning about writing: faking it

What I’m learning about writing: faking it

Just writing “I’m so depressed!” over and over doesn’t make for much of a read. I know this because I wrote it out a hundred times and then stuck it to my fridge and MY GOD it nearly forced me to stop sneaking chocolate in the middle of the night (but not quite). So instead of doing that to you, I thought I’d write a series of posts about things I’ve learned (or am learning) while I write. At the moment I’m working on three novel-length works, which is kind of like putting your subconscious mind inside a blender and not even turning it on but just throwing darts at it from across the room.

To clarify, “working on” might be overstating it. There’s a lot of staring and shouting and deleting.

Which brings me to the first thing I’ve learned: faking it.

(I’ve been trying to think of a ‘faking it’ joke that I can post here, knowing that my dad reads my blog, and I can’t, so just imagine that I made one and laugh a bit.)

The thing that has surprised me most about writing is the way the writing brain is like a big old steam train. It sits by a dank, empty platform while you watch television and eat frozen lasagne and it gets rusty. Its cogs and gears (or whatever, I’m not an engineer) get stiff and eventually the wind changes and they stay like that until you decide you want to write some more.

But you can’t (or I can’t) just sit down and write without a warm up. You have to get those gears moving again. You have to unjam them before the train can move fluidly. And that means bending your knees and giving the train a good shove without gaining much traction, because you’re not a conductor and you don’t know how to move a train, but you have a vague notion that if you push it, it should move. So you push again and the train moves an inch. You make slow progress along a shaky track. But if you keep pushing, you’ll move a metre. And that metre will have screeched and squealed and heaved back against your almighty pushing but you will be a metre ahead of where you were at the beginning.

And you’ll be moving instead of standing (or crying about not knowing how to move a train).

The next metre is easier, and the one after that, and the one after that, until suddenly you’ve gone from Adelaide to Alice Springs and it’s an old steam train so it hasn’t all been easy but some of it has been. You can look back on that ride and go, “Trains are a terrible analogy for writing, but they are better than pelicans” but also, “Sometimes we went through a proper town and the tracks were new and the ride was smooth.” Because at the beginning you pretended to know how to move a train.

If you fake it, it will mostly be horrible. You might write 3000 words and get one good sentence out of it. But that sentence will beget another sentence that might be better still, and then you have two sentences. And then four, and eight, and a chapter. The wind is in your hair. You’re by the seaside. You’re writing mixed metaphors on a Saturday night and ably demonstrating what it is to fake writing and you’ve thereby proven your point exactly.

Lesson 1: just write rubbish until you gain enough traction to write something else.

  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    June 29, 2013 at 11:14 pm Reply

    sorry, just laughing at your faking it joke.

    As for faking it, your train analogy is spot on. It’s slow, it’s laborious but bit by bit you get somewhere and for me, I just hope it’s the heading towards the right station!

    Love your work Anna, xx

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      June 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm Reply

      Thanks Jodi :) It is definitely slow! I wouldn’t mind a few brief adventures in an A380, just to shake it up a bit ;)

  • Lamb Piggly

    June 29, 2013 at 11:19 pm Reply

    How is a raven like a steam train?

  • Mrs Fringe

    June 30, 2013 at 1:13 am Reply

    LOL, I just posted a “faking it” piece last week. Some days it’s easier to plaster that smile on and push the train than others.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      June 30, 2013 at 11:16 am Reply

      Oh, definitely. MOST days it’s easier to just pretend you never decided to write anything.

  • Karen K Edwards

    June 30, 2013 at 9:00 am Reply


    Whatever torture you endure between sitting in your skivvies, weeping and eating chocolate and getting those sentences moving, it is worth it to me :-)

    Whatever it takes, you must not stop.

    Because, my dear, I love how your write.

  • kkbe

    June 30, 2013 at 9:04 am Reply

    I, on the other hand, just saw a typo in my post.

    “you”, not “your”

    Plus I wanted to put kkbe down as my name but the little box labeled “name” looked so serious. I thought I’d better not screw around so I was honest, dammit.

    I am now going to get in my skivvies and eat chocolate and weep for a while. . .

  • John James

    June 30, 2013 at 11:03 am Reply

    I actually find reading gets my head into the right space to write… especially when I’m working on my novel…

    When I have a few hours spare to work on my book, I will quite often read a chapter of whatever book I’m reading at the moment to get started – I know this sounds backwards, but it gets my head into that whole “book” space – once I’ve read a chapter, I open up my manuscript, and just start writing, and because my head is already in the world of the imaginary, I find the word seem to flow out me much easier than starting cold.

    I think it’s because reading is a little bit like meditation – it focuses the mind, relaxes the body… :)

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      June 30, 2013 at 11:11 am Reply

      I’m exactly the same John. I know a lot of people avoid reading their genre while they’re writing, but I find it really helps me to find some rhythm.

      I have been known to copy words from a book I love on to a page as a kind of running start, too. Whatever it takes to get the writing down!

  • Emily

    June 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm Reply

    Love it. Just spew forth words. Some might be good. Even if they’re all crap, they’re more words than you had before. And something about trains. I concur.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm Reply

      Exactly! Although I don’t love “you can’t edit a blank page” (because I don’t want to edit most of these words, I just want to get some momentum), some words are definitely better than no words.

  • Diane Carlisle

    July 2, 2013 at 1:26 am Reply

    I enjoy the stream of consciousness writing, where you just sit down and write anything and everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid. It always gets me writing to the point I find something interesting. Then I can’t stop. lol

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