Erin Evans (who, I'm excited to learn, is taking freelance editing jobs now) sent me this advice in response to my moaning about how nobody wants to buy my work and I'm cranky and I've gotten stuck trying to write a story for a dieselpunk anthology and writing is just hard, dammit!
I feel like, in my development as a writer, I have noticed phases where my critical faculties outstrip my creative ones and shit gets super frustrating. I know it's happening because I hate just about everything I read. Often I also hate everything I write--but sometimes I just feel like I am spinning my wheels while no one gets what I am clearly saying. During the very, very worst bout of this I was in a critique group and remember having this maddening conversation about a piece I was basically mangling into nonsense because I couldn't articulate what it was I wanted this character to do. Around the same time I was slamming some really well-regarded authors, not really realizing who they were or why they were well-regarded.
BUT all that awkward nonsense was a prelude to a serious jump in my writing abilities once I worked through it. So now, when that shit starts and I'm all like "What is all this garbage Asimov's is publishing these days?" and I keep rewriting the same fucking scene because I cannot make it look right, I know it's probably another jump coming.
Encouraging, isn't it? I'm struck by the idea of my critical faculties outstripping my creative ones, because that's exactly how I feel right now. I'm reaching for a voice and a flow of language that I know is inside me; I just have to keep chipping away until it comes out. Or write my million words or crap. Or something.
And then she gave me some specific advice for getting past the parts where I feel stuck writing crap, or not able to write at all.
What usually works for me in these patches is:
1) Write something totally throwaway. Rewrite something as something else (switch POVs, switch tenses, write it as flash fiction, a poem). Do a writing exercise that's got nothing to do with what you're working on. Just write that story as BADLY as you can. PUSH OUT ALL THE GARBAGE.
2) Make yourself figure out why people like the awful thing you're reading. Especially if it's popular. Because seriously, people don't like shit because it's shitty, right? SOMETHING in there is working. Put those hyperactive critical faculties to work.
3) Whine a lot. And get somewhat gentle feedback.
I've been thinking a lot about #2 in that list. Why do so many people read 50 Shades of Gray, or Bridges of Madison County, or anything written by Dan Brown?
What? No, I don't have any answers for that! But thinking about it is a useful exercise, and makes me realize that maybe what really counts is writing a good story, whatever your genre or voice. After all, as readers aren't we willing to forgive a little POV overlap, or some passive construction, when we're reading a ripping good story? A perfectly crafted story is what we think our writing groups want, or what we think the magazines or the open calls we submit to want. But this might not be the most important thing to readers, who are (remember?) our real audience.
Tell your story as well as you're able. Write more. Get better.