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Robert's Rules of Writing #22: Pick Your Poison

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Masello now begins a few rules and short essays that seem to hit the theme of getting something written. "Pick Your Poison" is an odd-sounding rule without explanation, and even with his explanation I'm still not sure why he phrased the rule that way.

Because his essay is about fear. The fear of writing. The fear of failure. The fear of success.

Masello points out that the blank page can be scary, because it's challenging you to create something worthwhile. But, on the other hand, if you give into your fears, then fear will eventually turn to regret. Because you'll have missed your opportunity

I think many of us know what he's talking about. Whenever I try to write a story, I'm eager to get it just right. Sometimes that eagerness feels like desperation. And as I write, I sometimes look at what I'm writing and think it's awful and that I don't know what I'm doing.

And as for regret, I think we feel that too. I set a daily quota for writing, and whenever I miss that quota, I feel the pangs of a day wasted, a day when I could have made progress on a story. And if I later see a story similar to the one I wanted to write, I regret not having gotten to it first.

Masello's advice is simple, which is to ignore the fear and just write anyway. He says that if you do that, the fear goes away and the regret never arrives. I tend to agree with his assessment, but I would offer a few additional pieces of advice, based on what I noted about my own writing habits.

The way to get past the fear, I've found, is to remind yourself that what you're working on is just a story. It's something you're doing because you enjoy it, and you don't have to release it into the world until you've gotten it as close to perfect as you can. I find that can sometimes relax the mind, and make the words flow more easily.

And as for regret, the best solution I've found is simply not to focus on it. You didn't get your 1000 words done yesterday? That's too bad, but hey, that doesn't mean you can't write your 1000 words today. Yesterday's over, forget about what you didn't accomplish. Instead, focus on what you can accomplish today. You'll be happier and more productive for it.

Comments

>>And as for regret, I think we feel that too. I set a daily quota for writing, and whenever I miss that quota, I feel the pangs of a day wasted, a day when I could have made progress on a story. And if I later see a story similar to the one I wanted to write, I regret not having gotten to it first.<<

Bingo.

I was already ancy having gone for so many days without writing lately--never mind it was for an awesome vacation--that I nearly went ballistic when I ended up not being able to write the last two nights, too. I'm going to try making up for it tonight, though I logically know I won't be able to pack three nights worth of writing into one.

*Danny chants Michael's last paragraph in this entry as a mantra to calm himself, but doesn't want to make a habit of having to chant it* :)
Perhaps I should recast it as a haiku:

Thousand words a day.
You failed to write yesterday?
Today you succeed.
Much easier to remember. :)

--Danny, who has succeeded for the last few days.
Maybe it's "pick your poison" because he's saying your choices are fear and regret -- it's got to be one or the other?
Interesting. The thing is, the choice he suggests is that you end up with neither. Ignore the fear, write anyway, and the fear disappears. And because you've written, the regret will never get a foothold.
Welcome. I hope you find something here of interest.
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