03 June 2014

Write Like A Boy Scout: Why a Writer Should Always Be Prepared

Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it's always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.
~ Neil Gaiman

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W
riters need to be Boy Scouts: always prepared.

Stories and ideas come from everywhere and no matter how good you think your memory is, if you don’t keep paper or a recording device at hand, you are going to forget some of them.

Of course, some ideas sound way better in our heads.  The old parable is dead on: don’t separate the wheat from the chaff before you harvest, you might pull up some wheat by accident.  Which is another reason it is good to write them down ~ so you can view them in the cold light of the blank page. 

Editing should always come after you’ve puked your guts out, not before.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little for your craft.  No one gets by on talent alone.  On Saturday, I gave up an hour of canoeing with friends to write this.  I knew if I didn’t, I would not only miss out on spending some precious time alone, but I would feel unhappy and unfulfilled.  As well as lose some valuable story seeds.

Even if some of them turn out to be weeds not wheat, at least I took the time to plant something.


Writing for Mental Health
The other seeds that are planted when writing down ideas, emotions, perceptions, etc. are seeds of mental well-being.  Because I suffer from cyclothymic depression and mild ADD, it is easy to forget the highs, the good days when the thunder clouds settle in the brain.  In fact, many therapists encourage their patients to keep a journal. 

For the past few days (Saturday was the exception), I felt like I had nothing worth saying, nothing worth sharing.  Intellectually, I may understand that isn’t true.  But the inner child throws a tantrum and wails that she doesn’t want to write.  Stomp! Stomp!  She just wants to retreat to her room (real or imaginary) and read, read, read. 

Not that reading is bad.  A good writer is always reading ~ it’s one way we hone our craft.  But we shouldn’t read to the detriment of our writing.

The other reason it is good to push and write through the bad days, is that by the very act of writing and documenting my depression ~ the highs, the lows, the insecurities, the deep sad ~ I keep the writing muscle in play.

Think of any exercise regimen.  There are days you want to stop ~ you’re bored, you’re tired, you’re busy ~ but if you do stop, it’s more difficult to get back on the treadmill, into the pool, etc.  And lose you some of the ground you’ve gained.

The same can be said of writing.  Writing every day ~ even if it’s crappy writing ~ keeps the ink flowing.  And I have to remind myself of this during periods like this ~ when I feel like an utter failure and like the poorest writer on the planet.  Eventually, I’ll prove myself wrong on that score, and write more things I’m proud of.

I just need to make sure I’m prepared to gather the wheat when it ripens.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

How do you capture ideas on the run? Do you find that writing helps you deal with your depression or other form of mental illness?

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