When I moved to Colorado, the first pair of skis I bought were twin-tips. I wanted to be a park rat, skiing backwards, spinning tricks, and riding rails. But I was stupid to think I would successfully land tricks on my first attempts. The bumps and bruises were harsh yet fair teachers. Regardless, I kept trying. And when I succeeded, I realized one thing: I could not half-ass it. I attempt a trick while scared. If I went in less than one hundred percent, I would fall hard. A 30-foot jump at the correct speed and angle feels like a smooth bunny hop. A 5-foot jump at the wrong speed and angle will bring you to the ground hard. A small twitch or a second-thought makes the difference. If you go in fearful, that’s when you get hurt.
Writing is no different. If you expect to become anything more than a “Hobbyist” by doing something less than one hundred percent, you will fail. All the falls I took in the snow told me that I needed to go big or go home. If you want to be a better writer, you need to be brave or put down the pen.
In that spirit, I have developed a writing program that guarantees improvement. It is the following:
Step 1: Write fearlessly.
If you second-guess your writing, slow yourself down, or never take the risk at all, you are locking yourself into failure. Many writers I know change their story so that it might sell better, and others change it based on the preferences of their critics. No one wants another [insert any author here]. They want a new you. So, write fearlessly. Write the way you would if you could do no wrong. I hereby declare you, all my readers, Prose Laureates of America. Your words are the most profound and greatest. You have full permission to write what you want at any time for anyone with any purpose.
Now, before you jump to your computer with the “Everything I Do is Great No Matter What” mantra, remember that “fearless” does not excuse “shitty”. I know many fearless writers who still suck. These fearless writers have good ideas and natural talent, but they’re so concerned about looking intrepid that they forget basic rules of writing (mechanics, character development, plot consistency, the audience’s comprehension, etc). I know even more writers who believe that they are writing fearlessly and then say, “... but my vampires are different because...” Fearlessness gives you permission to write how you want and what you want. It does not give you permission to write poorly, formulaically, or stereotypically. Keep yourself grounded.
When I say write Fearlessly, I mean demand a purpose for your writing. Write the story you want to write. Don’t think about what your parents/friends/workshop/editor/bookstore/The Blue Square Writer will think of it. Write it because it’s what you want and because it’s yours. As you’re writing, if the thought, “Wow! This really sucks” comes into your head, you’re probably correct. It probably does suck, but that’s okay. All writers think and feel this way. That’s when fearlessness separates the expert from the Hobbyist.
If something initially sucks, keep writing. Once you’ve edited and revised and rewritten and it’s been improved to Sucks Less, get some feedback. While an important component of fearlessness is having others help with and respond to your work, fearlessness also requires you to know what comments to ignore. Your responders will have some suck-it-up comments that you’ll be forced to acknowledge are true, and you’ll be forced to kill your darlings. But remember to make the story the one you want to make it. That’s the essence of fearlessness. Make it your story. Only then will that story upgrade to Good.
Fan fiction and Fad writing are fearful writing. Wow, I’m really proud that you wrote an eighth book to the Harry Potter series. But that’s not your story. Not your characters. Not your world. Not your ideas. Wow, good for you for writing another YA vampire series. But you’re following a trend. Trends shift, morph, and most often die (straight skis, one-piece snowsuits, the Daffy, etc). If you’re a good enough writer to finish a book on young wizards, why not change some names and places and create your own world? If you’re a good enough writer to finish a vampire series, why not take away the sharpened cuspids and give your characters another power? Those stories then become yours. And that’s fearless.
I once dropped off a ten-foot cliff into powder. I went in scared and, of course, I ended up with quite a bit of snow up my jacket and down my pants. However, I realized it didn’t hurt as much as I thought, and it wasn’t as scary as I predicted. The second time I dropped that cliff, I had less fear, hit it faster, and landed it. In the twenty-minute interval, I did not become a better skier. I did not get new gear or try a different technique. I learned that fear alone limited my skill.