In our first episode, we talk about why it’s okay to hate what you are writing (in the beginning), and how writing is much more like sculpting than it is anything else. We also do a three-page read of a fan-submitted script called FIENDS.
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Hello and welcome to episode one of Coping with Creativity, a podcast for creators about coping with that unrelenting need to create, mental health, self-imposed pressures, actually succeeding, and everything in between.
My name is Jesse Lawson, and in this episode, we are going to focus on hating our creations.
With that in mind, we’ll kick off our first segment, Notes for Notable Questions.
Notes for Notable Questions
Rachel from Maple Grove, Minnesota, writes:
Dear Jesse, When you said you were going to make a podcast for creative people struggling with self-doubt, I instantly knew what I wanted to ask you: Every time I get in the groove of writing, I will eventually stop and scroll back to the beginning of what I started, read the first few lines, and instantly hate myself. The fleeting excitement I had enjoyed while typing away just moments before is quickly suffocated with the looming truth that my eyes are now bearing witness to: I am not a good writer. I love writing–I really do–but I hate the constant up and down of liking my ideas but hating how I am executing them. What can I do?
Thank you for that question, Rachel.
I think this is something that we all deal with in some way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, or a painter, or a sketch artist, or even a game designer, you will, 100% guaranteed, look at everything you create and hate it at some point. And, to add to the misery, if you’re anything like me, you might even share something that you know you should be proud of with a significant other or a friend, knowing, somewhat subconsciously, that they’re not going to hate it, but then assuming they’re lying to you when they actually tell you they like it or that they’re excited to see where it goes. And then, to add add misery to the misery already added, you, like me, possess the common sense necessary to see how utterly ridiculous it is to have these latent thoughts.
The truth is, everyone hates what they make. At some point, at least. And anyone who says they don’t absolutely hate what they are making at some point is either A) lying to you, or B) lying to themselves–or I guess C) a little bit of both.
Now I can’t speak for other forms of art, but when it comes to writing specifically, I can offer some suggestions on how to deal with this specific problem–the specific problem being coping with hating the stuff you just wrote.
In my experience you usually don’t start hating something until you get to what I call the pull point. What I envision when I am writing are specific points in my script or draft where the plot or characters are being pulled forward through the plot by their own actions. It’s the moment I arrive at a point where I have to start making hard, irreversible choices about my story that the writing no longer becomes fun and it starts to feel like work, and once it starts to feel like work, my brain wants nothing to do with it. I think a lot of people are this way, too, because a lot of us grew up fantasizing about becoming an author and writing for a living, and then anytime something like actually writing comes along and dispels the illusion that we’ve grown comfortable with, we avoid it.
So I’m not saying that, Rachel, you specifically are subconsciously trying to hold on to some fantasy of what you think writing is–but I think all writers when they’re starting out fall into this trap of thinking writing is always this beautifully magical activity where creativity pours in like sunlight after a light summer rain and you are writing away like madness in the corner of your house. That does happen, but by and large, writing is one thing and one thing only: its work. Writing is work. Writing is hard work. Writing is frustrating, challenging, depressing at times, exhausting–and ironically, we still feel a need to do it. I mean if we didn’t, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to make this podcast, and you probably wouldn’t have submitted that question, and who knows, maybe I would have never finished my books and maybe we all would be different people.
But that’s not the case; we feel compelled to create, and although we cannot stop that incessant drive for creativity, what we can control is our expectations–both of our writing and of ourselves.
It’s a fairly common saying that the first draft of anything is garbage. Well, that’s easy to read, not so easy to digest when you are working with a really exciting idea that has been brewing all morning and you finally sit down to write it and all the excitement and energy is going straight into your fingertips and then at the end, you read through it and poof, what you wrote is awful. BUT LISTEN: THIS IS NORMAL. When you just starting to chip away at a story, it’s not whether the writing is good or bad at this point that matters, it’s whether your premise is believable or not. At this phase of sculpting your story, you are only putting together a big fat block of soapstone. You’re not carving yet–no one is carving yet, so of course your big block of rock is not going to look like a completed, polished statue. When you look at it, it’s not going to invoke the emotion that you are hoping it does once it’s completed–because it’s not completed yet! Even if you draw in great detail what you want the statue to eventually look like, you aren’t going to be able to see and feel the end result until you spend the enormous amount of time necessary to chip away at the thing, piece by piece, and polish it like crazy.
Writing is hard work because we can’t begin sculpting until we have the words to start sculpting, and we can’t have the words to start sculpting until we write them. No one cares what the sculptor’s soapstone looks like before the statue is chiseled out, nor does anyone even think about how much stone was trimmed and shaped and from where. The only thing that matters is your vision of what your art is going to look like once it’s done.
Until it’s done, you are still only adding rock, and adding rock, and adding rock, making sure to have a lump in the general shape of what you envision it to become eventually.
Stepping back, we need to practice telling ourselves that, when we start writing something–and even when we are engaged actively in writing something–it’s good that we don’t like it. Not liking what we’re writing means we can both accept that the writing needed to be done and that the writing needs to be rewritten eventually. This is a skill that non-creatives simply do not have, and is a huge factor in differentiating between art, craft, and the art of crafting when it comes to storytelling.
Someone who hates what they wrote is someone who has everything they need to write something good.
The difference between someone who has written something good and someone who has written something bad is that the person who wrote something good reworked and reworked and reworked and chiseled away and shaped and polished that thing until it resembled, at least somewhat, what they envisioned it to be.
So hopefully that answered your question, Rachel. You shouldn’t like what you wrote at the beginning–that’s normal–because the statue you’re sculpting isn’t supposed to look like a block of soapstone–it’s supposed to look like a statue, and our first draft is just the words that make up that block of soapstone.
Also, one last thing I wanted to share with you Rachel as you go forward:
- Consider writing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. I’ve found that physically writing words forces me to slow down, which may inhibit the quantity of words I am outputting, but it does wonders for the quality of my writing. Also, I’ve noticed that I am far less likely to skim or scroll back (as you mentioned) and review what I wrote. When I’m writing long-hand, the process feels much more linear and less jump-around-y. I hope that makes sense. Give it a try for a couple of days. Challenge yourself to write away from a computer and a keyboard and see what happens.
Alright, it’s now time for our next segment, Immediate Questions, where I read a script that you’ve submitted and give you all the immediate questions I have as a means of giving you a little bit of insight into what one audience member (me) may be thinking.
Today’s script is called FIENDS and it is written by Logan Leo.
My Immediate Questions:
- There were three PSAs about drugs–the D.A.R.E. program, specifically, I believe?–which is known to have had a negative effect on curtailing youth drug use. Is the one-two-three punch of the PSAs setting me up for some kind of violation of trust among some entity in the show and a protagonist, or is its purpose specifically to illustrate contrasting notions of anti-drug propaganda and the somewhat deleterious effects of the D.A.R.E. program? Is the D.A.R.E. program important here, is or it the anti-drug propaganda that’s important?
- Is the contrast between the PSAs and Abigail–who is described as being deep in a trance–meant to show a character who has ventured far from what was originally intended for them? Or is this character’s immediately observable actions meant to be a setup for some kind of growth “back to home,” so to speak?
- When Abigail whispers to herself, “I’m ready,” is this to say that there was a point when she was NOT ready? Is this a regular occurrence for her, or am I going to find out later that she had been wanting to engage in whatever she is ready for for a long time and is only just now getting to do it? What does being ready NOW have to do with the PSAs from before?
- After snorting this black mold, Abigail seems to begin to rapidly and vociferously hallucinate. Are these hallucinations actually hallucinations, or has Abigail, upon engaging with the black mold, been greeted by some sentient being? Was Abigail aware this was going to happen? It doesn’t see so, but if not, how did she find this place and how does her “readiness” (see question #3) play into whether she did or did not know what was down there or was going to happen?
- Is sentience supposed to be implied by the spot of pulsating darkness? Being described as throbbing, breathing, alive, but from Abigail’s POV, are we meant to be as confused as Abigail here, who is obviously super out of her mind right now?
- Based on Abigail’s reaction, was she not expecting this black pulsating darkness to be there? It seems that this is the first time she has experienced this darkness, and if that is the case, is her bloodcurdling scream an indication that she was in fact NOT ready for this? Was she aware of this darkness and if not, is the darkness a projection of something inside her?
- Is it Abigail who is in juvenile detention at the end of the third page, or is it someone else? If it’s Abigail, how on earth did she get out of there, and was it all in her head after all?
- Why was Abigail snorting black mold from this place? Did someone show it to her? How did she know about it, and what were her motivations for doing it?
- Is Abigail dead, either literally or metaphorically?
- If Abigail is still alive and she is a significant character or even the protagonist, what about her in the next part of the story is going to explain her projection or meeting of this dark pulsing spot from the murky corridor?
So those are my immediate questions. Thanks again to Logan Leo for submitting that script.
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