There comes a time in every writer’s career, when you look back at a piece of work and realize how truly bad it is. Wait. Did you just say that happens to you all the time? Well, isn’t that funny, because that happens to me all the time too. It’s like the work done before (even if done just last week!) becomes an immediate target for all your ridicule and disgust. But the truly loathsome stuff, happened back in the beginning of your writing career. That’s the stuff that gets burned or stuffed in a locked drawer never to see the light of day again.
There is a defining moment, though, when you realize that your approach to writing was all wrong, or perhaps your understanding of how to write was all wrong. You go back to read a project to discover a most horrifying truth… the piece is a stumbling piece of disastrous plot, unbelievable characters, graceless dialogue, and just overall forced writing.
What do I mean by forced writing? Chersti Nieveen describes it best in her blog Writer Therapy in saying, “When a book (or short story) no longer feels organic to the author’s voice or original intent.” It’s when the writing becomes so stiff that it jumps from the page, slapping the reader in the face. The characters don’t act according to their already established traits, and even dialogue can be so terribly unnatural to the situation that it makes a reader cringe in pain.
Yeah, I’ve been there. How about you? It’s an embarrassing place to be, and it’s hard to detect, especially when you are in the midst of writing all that constrained drivel. It isn’t until someone else (a brave someone) points it out, or you go back weeks or months later to read it that you think, “What the hell was I doing? This needs to be trashed!”
The next question comes… What causes this sort of writing? Well, there’s the obvious answer. You can’t write worth a hill of beans and should just give it up and move on.
But I think that’s a load of crap, because a writer is always learning and never stays in the same place for long. A writer is constantly evolving to a new and different understanding. And the skills of writing only gets stronger as you continue to write. So don’t stop! And don’t be satisfied with this ridiculous answer.
Let’s go back to Chersti (because she’s got some good ideas on her post about forced writing, you should check it out!). She says forced writing happens when…
- “You make any and all changes suggested by any person who comments” (on your story). Yep. I’ve been there!
- “You are unsure of what story you are trying to tell.” Man, was she reading my mind or what?!
Chersti goes on to discuss how to approach these two problems, which I’m not going to go into here because I’d actually like to expand on this idea just a little more.
Is that really the only two things that causes forced writing? How about this… What if you just don’t feel like writing? What if you are writing (and no, you don’t have the mythical writer’s block), but the spark (the original inspiration) isn’t there any more? Doesn’t that cause forced writing too?
Yep, sure does.
Kimberly Viveiros in her writing blog Insights and Thoughts talks about “inspired writing” and “forced writing” as two separate states of being that can have different effects on the writing journey. She explains that that the lack of inspiration can cause forced writing (or the effort of forcibly writing), but even still “writers should practice writing everyday, whether it’s forced or not.”
So very true, Kimberly.
In truth, a number of things can cause forced writing (either the act of writing forcefully or the actual story being forced, because the one can cause the other). It can be from a lack of writing knowledge, an inability to have your own ideas and just mirror the ideas of others, uncertainty of how to tell the story, and even a lack of interest in your story or a “falling out of love” of the story idea.
All of these forced writing issues can be overcome (and the best way is to just keep writing no matter what!), but the most important thing is to first realize that there is a problem and that it exists in your writing. You can’t fix a problem, you don’t know you have.
Coming to the conclusion that some of my writing had become “forced” was a hard realization for me to make (and this happened to me not that long ago). But making that realization has allowed me to be aware of the problem and address in a few ways.
Those ways include… changing my approach to writing as I make sure I do it every day, even if it’s freewriting or writing a blog post, allowing myself the space I need to make mistakes and learn from them, and to never forget that writing should be an enjoyable endeavor. When I forget this last part, my writing then becomes a job, and one I don’t like very much.
I’m not sure if any of my solutions will work for you, but there it is just the same. All I know is that being in a place where writing is being forced, or coming to the realization that something written has been forced is a bad place to be. But don’t fret. The world isn’t coming to an end. Just realize there’s a problem and keep writing! And remember this quote from Robert Southey…
“By writing much, one learns to write well.”