Writing Advice from John Green’s Dad

+NaNoWriMo+Mid-Novel Blues+Zombie Camels+

One of the many things I do when I’m procrastinating/percolating on the day’s writing is search out process porn online. This doesn’t mean what you might think it means. Process porn is simply writers talking about their writing process. I have an endless appetite for process porn.

Partly it’s a distraction. I suspect that many would-be writers spend much of the time they could be writing reading about writing instead.  I have shelves (and shelves) of writing books and dozens of writers’ blogs bookmarked. The reading becomes a substitute for the doing. Not a good substitute, of course, because after two hours of writing, you have some actual words that came from your own brain to show for your time, and after two hours of reading about someone else’s writing, well, you don’t.

But even more, it’s about finding consolation. Starting a novel is easy. Finishing a novel is hard. I’m smack dab in the middle of my 6th NaNoWriMo and still struggling with the same project I started 5 NaNos ago. Every year I determine that this is going to be the year I hunker down and bang out the last 50K words. But instead I flounder around and end up going back to the beginning and trying it all over again, as if that would somehow solve the problems I’m having in the middle. I simply don’t know yet how to muddle through the middle of a novel and finish it because I’ve never done that before. I know roughly what might happen in this story, but I don’t know how to develop it. I am wallowing right now in the suckage that is this novel and wondering why I ever thought that I could write a book.

Midway through a project, deep despair takes over—a strong belief that the book is stupid, the idea is embarrassing, and I couldn’t write a spritely sentence if my life depended upon it. Until I became a committed reader of process porn, I thought I was the only writer who felt this way. Meaning I wasn’t a real writer. Because real writers must trip eagerly to their computers every morning, brimming with ideas. Real writers must write in a linear way with each scene naturally developing from the scene that preceded it. Real writers must know what they’re doing. Real writers must feel like they know what they’re doing. Somehow it’s all better and easier when you’re a real writer.

I’ve been listening to John Green’s ohsogood The Fault in Our Stars as my audiobook. Instead of doing my writing on Monday, I read some Q&A on Green’s website about the novel and ended up clicking around until I found a page on John Green’s process porn called “Ideas and Inspiration.”

This little bit has been sustaining me all week:

 Q. How do you deal with writers’ block?
A. I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts (the only exception to this rule so far has been Will Grayson, Will Grayson) so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90% chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.
I also like to remind myself of something my dad said to me once in re. writers’ block: “Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.”

John Green deletes 90% of his first drafts. 90%! John Green!

And also: coal miner’s block!

It’s comforting to know that “real” writers also suffer from what Green calls the “mid-story blues.” In a post on process porn, young adult novelist Justine Larbalestier describes the eleven years she spent starting and stopping her first novel (not to mention all the other projects she started and never finished). She didn’t know how to get through the mid-story blues yet. She didn’t yet know what her process was for getting through a book.

Neither do I. But I’m working on it.

I have one idea I’m saving for the day I get really, really desperate and need to pull out all the stops to reach my word count. Two words. Zombie camels.



2 responses to “Writing Advice from John Green’s Dad”

  1. So, what is the secret? Taking every draft all the way to some kind of ending? That’s probably not a NANOWRIMO project, but would need to span a longer time period. Right?

    I’m really glad you are blogging again. I’m thinking of starting one about life as an old woman!! Is that ‘lol’ or ‘sigh’?

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