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.