(Image credit: Gratisography.com)
Have you ever surprised yourself by half-assing a homework assignment, and getting an A on it? Or by posting something to social media you thought was dumb, but it really took off?
Sometimes, the amount of sweat you put into something is inversely proportional to how well it comes out, and how well people receive it. Weird, but true. The makers of Goat Simulator only spent 10 weeks on development, yet have sold 1.1 million copies. Meanwhile, that crappy Dungeons and Dragons movie from 2000 was in the works for 10 years.
Good writers constantly worry about whether they’re being profound/funny/original/smart/etc. enough. They want those golden, inspired words so badly that sometimes they’d rather write nothing at all than risk writing something they perceive is crap.
You’re not as bad as you think you are. When you find yourself having those doubts, let go and just focus on writing well enough to be understood.
Work hard and finish. Don’t try so hard that you sabotage yourself- or, worse- give up.
Most of the time, that’s really all you need. Reaching for “next-level” prose sometimes makes things worse than if you’d just gone with the simplest phrasing.
Let’s take a simple sentence that might show up in your first draft:
Tom picked up the ball.
Ugh! How boring! Anyone could write that! You’re a writer, you gotta do better! With considerable mental strain, you might come up with this instead:
Reaching down with deft and practiced fingers, Tom scooped aloft the rubber orb.
Stop. Is that really better? “Rubber orb” isn’t nearly as comprehensible as “ball.” Plus, the action is now secondary to a description that may be irrelevant. Unless Tom is a major character whose fingers are important to something he does in the story, the reader won’t give a damn how deft or practiced they are. As for the action, is it really significant enough to deserve this kind of attention? If not, then it may be perfectly OK just to tell us that Tom picked up the ball.
If you’re going to reach, do it where you really need it: at important plot events, character moments, the climax. Give the rest of the prose a break.
This is a lesson I needed a long time to internalize, especially with humor writing. My off-the-cuff prose is just not that funny, which is something I worried about when I first started writing for The Daily WTF. With my first several articles, I stretched and strained to manufacture jokes- and, it wasn’t terribly well received.
You know what? Humor’s a lot simpler than that.
Here are three of the best articles I’ve ever written for the site:
Are they the most stunning examples of humorous prose in the English language? Heck no- but they happen to be some of the most popular articles in the site’s history, as measured by web traffic and comments. What they all have in common is that they
- tell a funny story
There are no zany characters, running gags, or goofy side-plots. No cute dialogue or biting rejoinders. A sarcasm might pop up here and there in narration, but mainly, I’m focusing on what actually happened (according to the story’s submitter), and how the protagonist feels and reacts. I draw upon personal experience in similar situations, and use my own feelings and reactions as needed. (That’s especially true with Spool Me Once, because that was based entirely upon my own experiences! “Sara” is me, folks.)
The humor comes from the situation itself- the core WTF, if you will. If I tell it well, I don’t have to build jokes around it to make it funny.
Remember what Bob Ross liked to say: “Don’t fiddle it to death.” Don’t feel like you have to be the next Voltaire or Rembrandt. Once you have a funny article, or a happy tree, sit back and enjoy your accomplishment. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well your audience takes to it.
Do you have an example of a creative work that got better when you put less stress and strain into it? Let me know in the comments!