Learning to Lean on Perspiration, Not Inspiration When Writing

This month marks my fifth year as a public relations professional (yay!), and as I look back on old post-graduate life-related posts from Brain Ink (now mostly archived), I’m amazed by how much being a professional writer has changed my mindset about the whole process. One of the old posts I’ve left up, Inspiration is a Fickle Fiend, I think is the most striking example of the change.

Writing fiction has always been fun for me, but it is hard when inspiration isn’t fueling the process. And that’s how I used to write. I’d wait for that spark to ink the next scene, to know what a character was going to do and how they were going to do it. As you can imagine, it took FOREVER to finish projects that way, if at all.

But writing professionally taught me how to be disciplined and how to mentally sweat in a way that academic writing didn’t. Sure, I put a lot of elbow grease into my academic papers, but it was supported by weekly class discussions and professorial guidance. Not to mention academic writing is a completely different style — which I learned from my boss after my first attempts to draft op-eds for clients.

So I mentally sweated my way through learning how to write in a punchier, more pithy style fit for newspapers, magazines, and, well, blogs. I inspected various articles written for mainstream outlets, paying particular attention to sentence structure, word choice, etc. to see how the author said something and what they did to make it a smooth, conversational read. I practiced on the job writing the first drafts of articles for clients and getting feedback from my boss. It also practiced here on Brain Ink, writing about the challenges of post-graduate life.

That helped, but it really clicked when I was hired to write and edit a millennial lifestyle blog called Buzzanza. It’s now a defunct publication, but I learned so much from that experience. Not only did I have to edit articles for other writers, I also had to come up with my own article ideas each week and execute.

Lather, rinse, and repeat that for the next year or so, and I became very comfortable with perspiring for the craft. And boy did that boost my confidence!

Some piece of advice that I’ve also found really helpful is to write every day, even if you have to write it badly (not a Desiree-original, I think Stephen King said it). That has helped me so much professionally and personally. The hardest part is to get started, and staring at a blank screen doesn’t help me think, and it’s crap for morale.

The solution isn’t to step away until inspiration comes calling. It’s to power through the first few paragraphs, then the first page, until the dreaded article or scene is drafted. It might be garbage. But now there’s some putty to work with and mold. I think that’s why editing is so much less intimidating to me. Starting from something is easier than nothing.

After writing the rough draft, I usually take a break, get some fresh air, stretch my legs, eat some cookies, take a nap, etc. to give my brain the chance to reboot.

I do, however, still have a bad habit of editing as I write. It makes me feel like I’m still accomplishing something, and it gives my meticulous brain time to think of what to write next, but really it’s just procrastinating writing new material.

A friend of mine does these word war exercises where she speed writes for small increments of time like 10 or 15 minutes and comes out of it with 600-some new words. So I know what I need to do to get better… It’s just a matter of doing it.

Brilliant idea that I’ll regret later: I’ll word war one of my next posts! And show what the result looks like before and after editing! It will be utterly mortifying but hopefully also hilarious.