This Writing Advice Will Kill Your Writing (The Answer … “More” Writing Advice)
This will, God help me, suffer a blasphemy upon one of my favorite books.
In The Black Swan, author Nassim Taleb speaks to the “antilibrary,” a knowledge void that succumbs to the library we already own and worship:
Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [A] library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
This anitlibrary has been the bane of my writing for decades. My shelves are lined with many great writing books … Damn Fine Story, Writing for Emotional Impact, On Writing, to name a few. I’ve read these books, absorbed their skillsets, bled yellow highlighter through page upon page … only to stall in my actual writing because of the antilibrary!
You see, as an unconfident writer, I take in writing knowledge. Actually, I drown myself in writing knowledge! Books, blogs, notes … and then more books, blogs, notes. As an unconfident writer, I am painfully aware that my writing knowledge will always be incomplete.
Enter the antilibrary, which is a cold expanse without borders. It’s in this expanse where a man can spin aimlessly in the dark and the stars forever and ever. In the antilibrary, the unconfident writer will forever seek what he or she does not know to the detriment of actual writing.
The Blackhole Of A 22-Point Checklist
The dangers of the antilibrary — i.e., getting lost in the dark forest of what you do not know — occurred to me in the dark forest itself. As I was studying one of the many writing emails I receive, I came upon this:
At first blush, the formula itself — a 22-point checklist — sounds like magic. Writing enchantment wrapped in a calculus formula … simply type, check the boxes (a mere 22 times), and your next article or blog post will be … What? … Creative? Successful? Discovered? The answer doesn’t matter. What matters is that herein lies the black hole of your antilibrary; a lineage of advice (checklists, strategies, formulas … next, next, next) so strong in its gravitational pull that many writers struggle to break free.
As a writer, you (me too) must break free of this ridiculous blackhole. You don’t need a 22-point checklist to write. In the same vein, you don’t need a crowded shelf of writing books or an Amazon Wishlist of antlibrary wannabes.
What you need is to actually write!!!
When Reading Becomes Your Devil
Writing … a forward-moving action … cannot be jumpstarted with the sedentary action of reading (always reading). Don’t mistake this for a pox upon the reader. The reading writer is definitely the better writer.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. — Stephen King
But the should-be-writing writer, too often, succumbs to the allure of knowledge, to the fool’s version of “honing the craft.” This “honing” is magical … the sharping of one’s bladed pen … but you’re not “honing” anything if you’re merely reading, absorbing, and learning (and then rinse and repeat).
In June, I stopped reading and began writing. I’ll backtrack on that a bit … I waned as a reader, opting instead to carve out more writing time, to judiciously and actively “hone,” to put pen to paper (a concreate path) and ignore what I don’t know (an infinite maze). It’s getting lost in this infinity (i.e., the antilibary) that destroys many a would-be writer. For years, it destroyed me, or at the very least, it destroyed my “antiwriting” … the collection of unwritten pages and ideas that constantly and persistently haunted me.
Your Freedom From The Killer Gravity
Since June, I’ve written about 40 new publications … so about 8 per month. Before this, I considered peak output (what I defined as “success”) to be about 1 publication per month (though pre-June, I hadn’t written anything in nearly a year). This writing lethargy was, in part, a symptom of fear … fear of judgment, of failure, of my skillset confirmed worthless; the other part was the allure of the read, the cozy couch, the fresh title pulled from my limitless and hypnotic antilibrary … Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little, Made To Stick, Everybody Writesand on and on and on.
So how did I finally break free of my antilibrary’s killer gravity? How did I shift from honing my mind — a comfortable quicksand — to actually honing my craft, to putting in the raw, physical, uncomfortable work?
(Editor’s note: Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know. This is just more writing advice to keep you from actually writing. But consider it “anti-advice” … advice to reverse the wormhole that is more and more advice).
First, I quit writing for an audience. I no longer care if anyone reads my stuff. What I do care about is the act of creation … the uninterrupted, practiced, continuous output of stuff! For me, audience writing stifled my creativity. I chose their likes over mine, and that — to always write for “them” — is an unnamed layer of hell (to put it bluntly). Writing for yourself — embracing an “anti-them” mindset — can be your escape from this hell.
Second, I quit worrying about grammar. This, to the writing purest, might sound like blasphemy. But really, who cares?!?!? Grammar denotes neither laws nor cosmic equilibrium; you risk neither imprisonment nor orbital imbalance with a broken “rule.” In the deep space of “anti-grammar” — where rhythm trumps rules and sounds consume truisms — you’ll uncover a rich and untapped source of creativity.
Lastly, I began writing haphazardly, which is a form of aggression. To “lack any obvious principle of organization” (the definition of “haphazard”) is to rush — without hesitation — into the burning house of writing. There’s danger in this … a lack of thought, planning, formatting, basically, spilling and spilling and spilling words onto the page without hesitation, without pause, without that damned internal editor … all of it haphazard. This danger can breed confusion and messiness and opacity, the creation of something unreadable or worse unlikable. But with pain comes pleasure because each haphazard word draws you deeper into flow, into the freedom of writing without the formality of “writing.” For lack of a better term, it’s “anti-craft,” a careless act that slurs technique but embraces creation.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.