Inspiration can strike at any moment. We all know the clichés. Like lightning. The perfect idea. Pours out seamlessly. But when it is hours before a deadline and you have little or no actual respect for most of the people your first draft is intended for inspiration tends to be of ever decreasing importance. Inspiration often deserts us and we are left with desperation. Whether it is for a friendly reading, a class, or even a post anonymously online (tehehe) we fear the seconds passing as the pages remain blank.
Let me tell you, DESPERATION CAN BE YOUR BEST FRIEND. Now some of you might have no clue how something scrawled in the last moments out of desperation can ever be a good thing. You obviously do no use my favorite writer’s weapon: BS.
There are two ways to BS that I favor and I hope in some way they can help you.
1. Pick any simply idea you had and throw as many layers onto it as possible. This contradicts one of my held beliefs about layering but that only really applies if you are doing it in all seriousness. In BS, you are not doing anything because you seriously believe it is good. Don’t fool yourself. Some ways to easily layer meaning, and consequently increase word/page count, are:
- Choose a color and weave it throughout. Make it be a symbol or an omen. Is someone mortally wounded? Have them looking at a red bird fluttering above a pristine white snow. Is your big concept hope? (I really hope not.) Then a green spout rising through the last pile of snow. (I like using snow.) Hopelessness? (What? Are you some angsty teen?) Brown mushy leaves and the threat of snow erasing even their existence.
- Dreams. Nothing says depth and layers like a character waking from a dream. Is real life okay? Make the dream heavy, ugly, and long-winded. People will be extra happy at the end. Not just because life is good but also because you will obviously have contrasted the language of the dream state with light, short descriptions in reality. For the opposite effect simply switch feelings. Make the dream fluffy and bright and reality a painful reminder of the impermanence of happiness. Contrast words that look heavy with bouncy words. Mundane vs. sprightly. Brown vs. sun. Bog vs. sky.
- Internal monologues. Add a bit of flair to your character by giving them a unique opinion. It doesn’t really matter what the opinion is as long as you can BS some connection to the story. Make the opinion unique enough that it requires further explanation. Why does the character think this? How did the character arrive at the opinion? Did they ever think differently? Is there a side story that you could tell in parallel?! How splendid! Just make sure the opinion is not so unique that you have to think of a way to make it work with the story. Remember, inability to think of a good story is why we are here in the first place.
2. The second way I will share with you to BS effectively is my personal favorite. By using this method I have written some of my favorite pieces. I must warn you, this method requires you to have enough literary knowledge to find some writing to be absolutely terrible. Think of an author that you think is wildly over praised whose works fit the writing assignments. For me: Poetry = Coleridge. Short Stories = pretty much any American short story about how meh-to-ugh lives get even worse. Fiction = YA post apocalyptic lit with themes of inner beauty and quirkyness being a super power. Non-Fiction = all memoir. I am sure you can think of something. A passage, a line, an entire book that make you just flat-out question the sanity of everyone who has ever read it. Something that, when you have just finished it, causes you to look around and question the very worth of the written word. Dig in your memory for the thing in your needed category that once made you think, “Why in the world is this considered of merit? I could write this crap and I would do a much better job.” Congratulations. You just found your BS springboard.
Now you must mimic the style. And by mimic I mean mock it. Is it filled with metaphors? Does it use grandiose language? Is the entire first chapter a description of a girl turning her head and her hair flowing just so like a river of desire running straight to the protagonist’s heart? Awesome for you. Because if someone else got published for the style you can adapt it. Use what you absolutely hate about the writing to push you through. Hopefully you will manage to write something and possibly find the exercise therapeutic.
Now you might ask, “How can I pass this off as actual effort when I know it is crap?”
Easily. First, apologize. Own that you think you might have fallen short of your dreams and you would greatly appreciate advice on salvaging the situation. Practice lines for discussion like, “I was inspired by,” “The way … used … to … make me ache to attempt my own version,” and most importantly, “I know it doesn’t succeed but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from: stretching my abilities/trying something new/practicing a new style/learning from a master/failing to fully hold the essence of a classic.”
Second, make sure to remember you actually don’t care about the feedback you are going to get. Don’t take offense if someone hates it. Don’t try to defend it or explain it if you don’t feel passion for it. Remember, you know what you turned in is crap. If there is anything salvageable it will be a head start when you completely redo the entire thing. Think of it less like something you care about and more like extra time and an idea pool generated from the remains of your writing and the helpful suggestions of those around you.
And people will make suggestions. If they want to help you they will try to find constructive ways to fix what you already have. This can be your salvation. If a person feels the need to help you fix this…let them. Sit there, nod your head, mummer, answer questions vaguely. What did you mean by… You don’t know precisely what you meant now that you have had some distance from the writing process to reevaluate. It is okay to admit that you wrote “what you felt and some of the details are still murky. You just had to get it out on the page. Perhaps in the next draft you can focus on flushing out the true nature of each detail.” No lies really.
Listen for a few key points to be made.
- If you hear something like, “Have you considered?” “Would you consider?” “I would have…” “What if?” “What about?” or “Maybe…” take note. The person is about to offer you an actual way to turn your BS into a real draft. This person has looked at your work and has thought about what they would do to make it good. (Which is quite possibly more thought than you gave it.) Even if the suggestion is terrible, listen. Don’t just listen because you turned in something you don’t care about (But do listen because of this. You owe the people reading your BS the penitence of your consideration of their opinions no matter how terrible or full of drivel.) Listen because it is one more idea that you didn’t have back before the BS.
- If you hear, “I think he/she meant,” get excited. This mean two things. One someone has taken it upon themselves to challenge another opinion about your BS. You are getting multiple people to take sides which can only generate more ideas. But most importantly, it means that someone could be about to give your work meaning. MEANING IS NECESSARY. Now sure, you may have given it cheap meaning with layers and metaphors and a little line about redemption in the new buds of spring, but this person could just possibly justify a part of your writing with reasoned argument. That is a very strong guide in revision. If someone else can argue for something in your story then you might just have something after all. Now just in case you don’t understand, it doesn’t matter one lick if you actually wrote whatever the person is saying. It doesn’t matter if the metaphor is real or if a typo is causing someone to misunderstand an entire section. This person is handing you revision gold. Some of the greatest stuff I write I let others assign importance to. You think this is about the importance of the little person’s stalwart will and determination? Well it’s a story about a field of dandelions and a tractor. Of course that is what it is about. You are exactly right.
Now get out there my friend and give them the best BS you can. Or wait for inspiration. I’m sure that’s what all successful people do.
Pingback: On Writing About What Makes You You | Under the Dark Moon