Shaking Writing Stagnation with Forrester's Insights

I awoke this morning with nothing to do, so I flipped on my television to Starz. Much to my delight, Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester was playing. The stagnation in my writing habits were quickly lifted away when Forrester began speaking to Jamal about writing. Of the process, he says that a writer must just write. “No thinking,” he instructs Jamal. “The first draft is written with the heart,” he says. Continuing with great relish, he says, “Your revision is written with the brain.”

William Forrester in Finding Forrester (2000) said, “The first key to writing, is to write. Not to think.” It’s rather good advice. It could apply to many things in life, but especially so of writing. And therein lies the problem. I haven’t been writing. I’ve been thinking.

My instincts about learning the craft of writing in classes were spot on. For the longest time, I haven’t written anything for my novel. I was indeed bogged down by all the technical aspects of writing, just as I suspected that I would if I were to ever get an education in creative writing. My school-learning resulted in constant thinking: about the effective use of summary and description, about how to use metaphors, and all that other fancy jazz. As a result of this excessive intellectualization of writing, I became completely paralyzed. The scenes didn’t flow out of my mind and onto the page. No, the scenes became heavily edited on a sentence by sentence basis. My raw output fell to a standstill.

Because I was so self-conscious of my own writing, I became stuck in revision mode. I was thinking too much and writing too little. After all the time that has elapsed since the beginning of my journey of writing a novel, I had improved and increased my knowledge of the technical aspects of the craft by leaps and bounds and sought to improve the work that I had written prior to my improvements. But what I should’ve been doing was doing a complete rewrite. So now, instead of reading the words I had already written, I am taking the plot points and putting them on index cards and am going to do a complete rewrite. Revision just wasn’t working for me because I was limited and stuck—limited to my inferior writing, and stuck with older, less developed ideas.

I need to return to the roots of my writing process, the conditions under which I was able to produce seventy-four, and then eighty-nine, thousand words. I need to just let my imagination run off and to write from the heart. And so I may take Forrester’s advice. He says that “sometimes, the rhythm of typing is what gets us from page one to page two. And when you begin to feel your own words, start typing.”

I forget who said something like this, but some famous writer once said that writing is really just getting out of your own way. I have to agree. And it’s why I’m hesitant to consider going on to get a Master’s degree in creative writing. One book review on Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding said that the book had great technical excellence that showed the pedigree of the author’s education in creative writing, but that it lacked any sort of urgent message or passion. My fear is that education will take the soul out of my writing. But first thing’s first: I’ve got to finish this novel.