WFMAD Day 4 – The Big Secret of Writing

I could get in a lot of trouble for this.

The Author’s Guild might send ninja zombies to my house. My agent might draw a line through my name in her Big Book. She’ll use my blood for ink. SCBWI will throw my membership card into the ocean. No one will return my calls.

But you guys are all putting your heart into WFMAD. I hear your stress, feel the twangy nerves that vibrate like overtightened cat guts on a battered violin. By now you are figuring out that simply writing for 15 minutes a day will not transform your writing or your life.

At least, it won’t transform those things quickly.

And you are doubting yourself. Your resolve is failing. There are so many other things to do: that job that pays you every week, or family that needs your love and the car needs an oil change or email has piled up or laundry or you need to exercise, and the dog’s nails have to be clipped and your coupons need organizing…

This is why I have to tell you the Secret.

(No, not the Secret Weapon, Sherlock. That’s for another post.)

The Secret of Writing is this: most of the time, your writing is going to suck. Nothing personal, don’t look at me like that. This pertains to ALL writers. Everywhere. And me. Especially me.

The writing that gets turned into a book is usually pretty good when it finally gets to the Magical Book Stage. That’s because the author has busted her butt to make it so. That first draft? It sucked. The second one? A little better, but not by much.

This means that most of the time an author is working on her book, she does so in the full knowledge that at that precise moment, it is pretty crappy. Not a comfortable feeling. But it’s one you can get used to, kind of the like the discomfort that comes when you are stretching your hamstrings. You know it won’t kill you, you wish it didn’t hurt, but it does, so you deal with it and keep stretching.

It is OK if what you write today is a steaming heap of chicken poo. Because this is not a test. It is your imagination sticking a shovel in the ground of your soul and trying to unearth something. If the shovel raises a couple of blisters, are you going to quit? I sure hope not. It is possible to have the voice in your head telling you that your writing sucks…. and IGNORE it. I do. Every day up until the point when the book I’ve worked on for months and months and months is finally ready to be published I hear that inner critic. Because until the very, very end, the book is kind of awful. Until I finish the work. Then it’s not so awful any more.

That’s when I write another book.

My Writing Process = First Draft of Inspiration and Suckitude divided by ((revision + craft)) x 6 drafts).

It’s OK if what you are writing today is not of the quality to be published tomorrow. It means you are human, which gives you permission to write about the human condition. You’ll make it better when you revise, trust me. Just keep writing.

Any questions?


David Almond once said in an interview “Don’t think about doing it or talk about doing it. Do it. Don’t think everything you write has to be good. It can’t be, so feel free to write rubbish. We all know that writing can be difficult, serious, burdensome, etc., but it is also a form of play. So enjoy yourself, and play: doodle and scribble, experiment with possibilities.”

Turn off your phone. Lock the door.

Today’s prompt:

1. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Put them in front of you.

2. You are going to read a poem as fast as you can. You are not reading for meaning or enlightenment. You are trolling for words. (You’ll find a link to the poem I want you to use below.)

3. As you read the poem, write down 3 – 5 words or phrases in it that resonate inside you. I don’t care why you choose those words. But find the ones that make your antennae wiggle.

3a. If you can’t find at least 3 words on the first read-through, read it a second time, but you have to read it out loud. You’ll feel it when a word has some weight that your Muse wants you to explore.

4. Write for 15 minutes about those words. You can weave them into a story, stick them in a character’s mouth, or riff on the memories those words evoke in you.

Use this poem: “Completely Friday” by Luis García Montero, translated by Katie King.


29 Replies to “WFMAD Day 4 – The Big Secret of Writing”

  1. I’m awake! But that’s because I live in Australia and it’s 9:30PM here! Found an hour of time in between uni classes and scribbled a couple of pages down. WFMAD has been so inspirational. Thanks!

  2. This is a GREAT post, Laurie!

    I’m working on revising my most recent WIP, ironing out the kinks and such, and have been a bit paralyzed about really DOING it (okay, so it’s only been a few days, but really, days slip into weeks and months WAY too easily!). Reading this post helps boost me in the right direction again. To ACTION!!!!

  3. I love this post, Laurie. Thank you. You’re so amazing. <3

    This spoke to me from the poem:
    "As does my body
    which recalls the memory of your body
    and foretells your presence"

  4. Thank you for this! I don’t have trouble writing gleefully away until the inner critic creeps up and starts commenting in my ear.

    I’ll keep this in mind and keep plugging.

  5. Thank you for the post! WFMAD has really helped keep me on task. And no matter how many times people remind you that’s it okay to suck, it’s always nice to hear it again. (Seriously!)

  6. All I want is to sit on the porch and write: my fifteen minutes with Laurie. Not a third phone call telling me that another family member has been in a car accident.
    Three in one day is enough.
    Awake since the most recent call at 6:30 a.m, I check Facebook. Recheck. Wait for Day Four’s Prompt.
    By the time it comes, I have settled into the porch swing, resigned to just write for 15 minutes. Write about the past fourteen hours.
    Before I close my computer, I see the prompt appear. I read it. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
    And then I write a scene for my YA novel, as it comes to me–inspired by the words of the poem. The scene has haunted me for months, yet now, it flows easily onto the page.
    I let myself go, slip away into the words, the scene, the story.
    A car comes down my driveway just as the timer goes off. I put my pad and pencil down and take a deep breath, thankful that I at least had my fifteen minutes. It made me stronger.
    I did something for myself before the needs of others take over my day.

  7. Thanks for that post, Laurie. It reminds me of Anne Lamott’s comments about “shitty first drafts.” First drafts are torture for me, revision is much more fun. I’m beginning a new work, so fear sits at my elbow every moment. Your challenge has helped me commit the time to character development and idea-generation that I need right now.

    And Betsy, your post above was beautiful. Peace and blessings to you.


  8. I have writing anxiety
    But then the mad woman in the forest
    Says to me
    It’ll be ok-
    don’t worry
    We all write poo at first

    So now I’m revved up
    Ready to go
    Pick up my pen
    Get on the with the show
    Thanks to Ms. Halse-Anderson
    Now I know
    To keep writing- even if it’s my worst!

  9. I am so glad I was able to get this written before the crazy day has strangled me.

    Thank you for telling us that our writing will stink and we’ll have problems. I think there’s a stigma that authors don’t have stinky writing and I appreciate your honesty.

    Today’s prompt made me talk with myself about what I felt my life was and what it really is. I figured out that there are things I have yet to accomplish in my life, and sitting here thinking and stewing over what I should do, I need to get out there and just do it.

  10. Wonderful prompt. Okay took 15 minutes. Did not budge from chair. Did not edit.

    The weekend fits like a favored pair of pants that lie loosely comfortable around my waist, despite all the food I am enjoying with friends. But Monday calls out, “I mean business, missy.” Time to share some hours with The Chores left house sitting when I went away for the weekend.

    Tuesday is friendlier because, unlike its brother, it is the spare and not the heir so its duties are not so prescribed. Then Wednesday brings the news that we are halfway there. Now, Thursday is a little glum because while I am glad to see it, I really am looking over its shoulder for the next one.

    When it does knock on the door – or ring the alarm – I greet Friday with a cup of coffee, the morning papers, and I’m in my bathrobe for a little bit longer than usual. This is completely Friday.

  11. Thanks, Laurie! I’m up to my neck in chicken poo at the moment and suckitude reigns supreme. It’s nice to know others, including you, share my pain!

    Now where did I put my pen/shovel?

  12. I planned on only writing fifteen minutes today, for I have a lot to do…
    But fifteen turned into thirty.
    And I do not regret one minute of it.

    I totally agree with your whole blog post. It makes perfect sense. So I shall strive to turn my chicken poo into a worty story each time I rewrite a draft. It’s the best thing I can do.

    PS. A few days ago I posted a link to a song about freedom, and I commented how the song made me feel free as a writer. As I was typing this comment, the song began playing on the radio in my house. I turned up the volume and enjoyed the freedom I felt after the thrity minute (feels amazing to type that) freeing write I just had. 😀
    Ah, irony, how I love thee.

  13. This afternoon I am going to head to my parents with my girls and in a couple of days we will head to my sister’s new house since she just moved back to the Pacific Northwest after living in Massachusetts. I have decided to unplug while gone. Next week I have one more week of summer school Mon-Thur, and Friday is the first day for teachers to go back. I’ve worked hard to complete all assignments I need to do so that I won’t have to worry about them on for the next few days – I want to be able to focus on my girls and family.

    Since I want to unplug, rather than packing my laptop and working on my novel WIP, I will be bringing along my writer’s notebook. I am sure that the moments I will be savoring spending time with family will provide plenty of inspiration to fill 15 minutes and beyond.

    I look forward to catching up on your WFMAD posts when I come back on Sunday.

  14. Writing in the knowledge of the combination of inspiration and Suckitude (great expression, that!) is a lot easier if you have experience with performing, whether it’s music, drama, or dance. First read through–really bad, usually, but it gives the performer a sense of what’s supposed to happen. Then comes the practice, practice, practice, and the focusing on the tricky passages, until finally it all comes together. Not that the performance will be perfect, but that it will be as close to perfect as the performer can manage on the night.

  15. Another day, another a-ha!

    I’m up to 115 pages of my WIP, which was RE-started during last year’s WFMAD. I’ve added at least three pages a month since then, the most was over seventeen pages during BFF.

    My WIP salutes you!

  16. Day 4 already? Still nothing on WIP. But tonight I wrote way after timer went off, started a fiction story about social networking and murder. Details flowing.

    So don’t anybody suddenly disappear on Facebook or write spooky stuff in your status. I won’t be able to sleep (like my character). Bwwah ha ha. 😉

  17. Great writing advice and awesome prompt today! The poem is gorgeous and I actually wrote fiction for about 20 minutes–which for me is impressive! Thanks again!

  18. In addition to WFMAD, I’m doing BEDA (Blog Every Day in August). The following, from today’s post, is in reference to the WFMAD challenge:

    “…while most of what I have written is absolute garbage and should never be seen by the eyes of another human, I’ve stumbled upon a really interesting idea that I enjoy messing around with. I’ll start writing in medias res, as every creative writing instructor I’ve ever had has advised me to do. And typically I start out with two characters interacting, or I’ll describe the situation of a character and just mention a second one. And initially, it seems like the relationship between the two characters is really obvious – father/daughter, siblings, lovers, etc. But after a little while, one of them will say something that reveals the true nature of the relationship, and it will change the way you read the text entirely.”

  19. This is the post to read when I struggle with that inner perfection voice that questions what I put down on paper. You could hide your SCBWI card in that lovely forest of yours.
    I had fun with the prompt.

  20. Finally, FINALLY began writing the story I’ve been telling my twins for years! That’s how Rick Riordan started, right???????

  21. Wow! Another beautiful scene for my WIP came out of this prompt. (Well, maybe my character doesn’t quite see the beauty in the scene. She’s cussing me out right now. lol)

    Thanks, Laurie!

  22. Bleh! I’m evidence of your writer-Truth (capital T)… the labor pains are intense and unpleasant. First drafts suck with suckage to exceed the suckiness thereof. But it means birth is imminent (or that it’s gonna be a looooong labor!). Not having so much fun–too much revelation and I don’t like what I see. Still writing, but growing whinier about it! Good thing I like you and trust you, that’s all I have to say about that.

    Today’s product: Making a list of my childhood recurring dreams. (They’ve been nagging me.) How creepy is that? Seriously. Ewww.

    Funny the tunes that have run through my head today…”Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and “I’m Just A Little Black Raincloud”. Here’s hoping for a bit of “Eye of the Tiger” tomorrow!

  23. I liked your quote from David Almond — “Don’t think about doing it or talk about doing it. Do it. ” I wrote for an hour yesterday, and what I wrote didn’t suck quite as much as the day before. Better yet, though, I kept moving forward — I didn’t let my brain tell me “This sucks and you should stop right now.” And I’m grateful to know other writers have been there, and still hear those words in their head at the beginning of a project, but they keep plugging on, anyway.

  24. Alright, it is time for a true confession – the prompt for day 4 was not my favorite and was a little more difficult to come up with a story. I enjoyed forcing my brain to think and write differently yet have learned – this isn’t my favorite type of prompt. This will be a great month! 🙂

  25. “It is OK if what you write today is a steaming heap of chicken poo. Because this is not a test. It is your imagination sticking a shovel in the ground of your soul and trying to unearth something.”

    Ms. Anderson — you made me laugh out loud and then tear up in the space of three sentences. This is among the best advice I have ever heard.

  26. For a grandma playdate I did this prompt with my teen granddaughter. We both wrote for fifteen minutes and then read to each other our writings.

    We both enjoyed the activity and were amazed that our writings were so different, yet we chose some of the same words. She loved the word “sucktitude” too.

    We both went away accepting in ourselves that most of what we write we do for fun and not for public reading; nevertheless, our first writings will be chicken poo until we stir the dung pile a little longer and make fertilizer for the rest of our writing seeds to grow in.

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