If You Need Permission, Babe, You’ve Got It

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

It’s Friday again! Which means, time for another Friday writing post. I suggest you click back a day and read Dame Toni’s most excellent Brain Frozen, Need Help! Because she says it better than I could.

Today I’m resurrecting a Golden Oldie from my blog vaults. This post went up in July of ‘07, and is taken from an actual email I wrote to an actual young writer’s desperate call for help. I think it’s held up pretty well, in conjunction with my other advice to young writers. So, without further ado, here’s something I wrote pretty much two years ago and reread this morning. It fired me up all over again. Oh, and please note: there are four-letter words ahead. If that bothers you, stop now.

Letter To A Young Writer

From: Lili Saintcrow < *************>
Date: Jul 14, 2007 9:50 PM
Subject: Re: Lili, I Need Your Advice!!

Hey ******,

This is going to be fast, since you’re under deadline and I pulled an all-nighter last night.

There are two problems here. One, you’re afraid. That’s okay. Inside every writer’s head is a little voice that says, “You’re not good enough. You can’t say that. Who the f!ck do you think you are?” For me it’s my mother’s voice. “That artsy fartsy sh!t will never put food on the table! Grow up!”

EVERY writer has that voice in their head. It is the Censor, the curse of every creative, and it’s also a crutch when you don’t want to work or when you’re pushing your comfort boundaries.

What helps me is knowing I can write absolute crap. Giving myself permission to write crap was the best step I ever made as a writer. You can write whatever the hell you want. Quality isn’t important. Quantity is. You churn out enough work and sooner or later your craft will get better and someone will like something you’ve written. It’s the shotgun theory of publishing. So just-okay writers get published because being just-okay at this is all right. Even being crappy at this is okay. What is important is that you try.

*******, I hereby give you permission to write the worst drek in the multiverse, as long as you write SOMETHING. So when you finish reading this get your ass in the chair, put your fingers on the keyboard, and just go. Don’t worry about whether the writing is any good. Right now that’s the least important fucking thing on the planet. The MOST important thing is sitting down and getting the sh!t out, so that you can see where you are and correct your aim if you’re not where you want to be.

Writing is like sex. Even bad sex is mostly better than none. You just have to a: show up, b: be flexible, and c: have a good time and enjoy yourself. You enjoy yourself and enjoy giving pleasure through writing, and the rest will come.

Second of all, you have your own idea of how the story is going to go. Can it. You’re not telling the story. S****e is. Throw out everything you’ve plotted out about this character. Outlining is only useful so far. Get out of the f!cking way and let her tell the story, and give her permission to go off the beaten track. Your idea of what will happen will most likely end up being the furthest thing from what actually happens. If I may be permitted to stretch the “writing as sex” metaphor (which I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t certain you’d understand and we’re good enough friends that you won’t take it wrong) I’d tell you: you can’t have an orgasm when you’re all tense. It’s a delightful accident you need to calm down enough to let happen. The same thing happens with the character.

To sum up:

1. Let the Censor yammer all s/he wants. Just sit down and write.
2. Even by writing absolute crap (which I highly doubt it will be) you are still doing more than most “writers” dream of by just sitting the fuck down and getting your finger on the keyboard.
3. You can write crap. It’s okay. The first million words you write don’t f!cking matter. Let them be however they want. You wouldn’t expect to do a marathon or fire a gun perfectly without practice, right? Writing is no different. It’s okay to suck for the first million words or so. (Note: you generally get better in that first million words. Don’t sweat it.)
4. Throw out the outline and let the character tell the story, not you.
5. Have some f!cking fun with it and relax. Just like sex.

There. That’s all I have time for right now, I’m about to crash. But this is IMPORTANT. If you have to, write out:


and tack it up over your computer. Just do what Stephen Brust says. He has this written on a sign where he can see it while he’s writing:


Works for me. Really, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. What matters is getting the words out, again and again.

Now get your ass off email and go write. Set a kitchen timer for twenty minutes and just write. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s “good” who the f!ck cares? It’s your story. Just get it out.

Then do it again. With breaks for the bathroom etc. as necessary. *grin* Or a colostomy bag, if you want to.

Didn’t I tell you to get off email and go write?


Good luck.


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