Pep & Prompt #12: Toot Your Writing Horn

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TOOT TOOT!

Today’s Pep & Prompt is extra peppy because you look like you need it.

PEP TALK UP THE HOOZAH!

And also some gentle prompting.

But mostly pep.

(So much pep.)

Today is about tooting (fnar). Tooting your writing horn. Shouting your accomplishments from the rooftops. Appreciating how far you’ve come. Saying, “Yes, damnit, I’m fucking good at this!” Even when the little voice in the back of your head is saying. “Er, no you’re not…”

If you’re already shaking your head, thinking “yeah, nah, but I’m really not” then welcome to the club, and read on.

Because learning to toot (snarf) takes practice.

It takes some serious self-examination.

It takes throwing off the shackles of years of anti-tooting conditioning.

It takes cultivating a “fuck you, fuck that, and let’s fucking do this” attitude.

And it starts here.

ALL HAIL THE EGO & PRAISE THYSELF

Uhh yeah. We’re not very good at that, are we? Actually admitting that we’re proud of ourselves. Pride is seen as something almost repugnant. Self-belief so easily mutates into cockiness. And goodness forbid we have even a smidgeon of confidence in our writing.

When was the last time you said “thank you, I’m really happy with it” in response to somebody complimenting your work? Ugh, when did you last say ‘thank you’ to any kind of compliment, instead of rushing to justify yourself or rejecting it outright?

What the hell is wrong with us? Why can’t we be proud, believe in ourselves, and be confident? Why don’t we praise ourselves more often?

And thus, here begins the first lesson of tooting thy horn.

Positive reinforcement is always more effective than beating yourself down.

It doesn’t matter how often you sit down to write, but each time you do, make sure you end with a little moment of self-appreciation. Even if that’s just a quick: “Well done me for doing some writing today.” But try to go beyond that and actually appraise – and praise – your hard work.

TOOT #1: PICK ONE THING

Pick out a single line you’re pleased with. One whole paragraph that really works. Look at your entire body of work and give a nod to one particular chapter or stand alone story that makes you feel proud. It might not even be about the actual words – perhaps it’s a concept or premise that you’re excited about, or a plot issue you managed to solve, or a character you’re particularly attached to.

Pick one thing.

Give yourself a little “Fuck yeah!”

Feel PROUD.

Feed your writing ego.

Rack up those little victories.

REINFORCE THE POSITIVES. Associate writing with a sense of self-worth. And not only are you far more likely to wanna do it more often, but you’ll also find the courage to take risks, experiment, and enjoy the process instead of worrying about the outcome.

It doesn’t matter if the entire piece isn’t perfect if you can pick out at least one little portion that you like.

And slowly, the more you work on it, the more portions you can refine, improve, and be proud of. Until you love the whole damn thing.

It may still not be perfect, but that doesn’t matter, because lesson number two in tooting your writing horn is this:

EMBRACE IMPERFECTION

99.999999% of the writers I know are hideously self-deprecating about their work. Some of them seem to have NO IDEA how good they are and how much potential they have. Or perhaps they’re just afraid to let themselves believe it.

Self-belief is scary – because what if you’re wrong?! What if you put your work out there, all naked and vulnerable, and someone tells you it’s shit? Better to keep it hidden and hoard your words and eschew all opportunities for sharing and feedback until it’s absolutely, completely, totally PERFECT. Right?

Yah no.

Honeybun, there is no perfect. There is no flawless. There is only the best you can do at this exact moment in time.

And a piece of imperfect writing is a beautiful thing.

It IS a moment in time. It’s a slice of raw creativity. It might be a bit wobbly around the edges, or be full of crappy grammar, or cliched, or inconsistent, or whatever, but it’s something. It’s something to grow from. And by practising Toot #1 – praise and positive reinforcement – you will gradually get better at seeing the glorious potential in your shitty drafts.

At a recent writing retreat we spent an evening sharing our work. A young writer stood up with a scrap of paper and announced she was going to read a piece of freewriting with the caveat that it was unedited train-of-thought and probably didn’t make any sense. In other words: lower your expectations and excuse me if this is shit.

It was only a paragraph – interconnected thoughts and images and metaphors all muddled into one, with no pernickety interference from the rational side of her brain – and it was glorious. It hushed the room into silence.

Because it was real.

And isn’t that the magical part of the writing process? Before you get bogged down with structure and editing and analytical picking apart every single strand of a story? The splurge of creative inspiration that emerges when you stop thinking too hard and let your writing be imperfect.

TOOT #2: FUCK PERFECTION. LOOK FOR POTENTIAL.

Take your wonky, weird, nonsensical words; take your half-finished shitty first drafts; take your most cringeworthy of ancient stories and read between the lines.

Embrace the imperfection and find a spark of potential, instead.

Imagine what it could be, with a little work.

Ask yourself: what is the best way to tell this story?

Then write that down. But DO NOT mention a single negative. Focus on the potential, the good bits, the glimmering diamonds in the dirt…

Give yourself something tangible to work with instead of bombarding yourself with all the things your writing isn’t.

Which leads us nicely to Toot #3:

REMEMBER – YOU (AND YOUR WRITING) ARE A WORK IN PROGRESS

A lotta writers confuse ‘perfection’ with some mysterious unattainable level of literary zen that they will (hopefully) one day (maybe) achieve. They look at their writing heroes and think they know what the fuck what they’re doing (they don’t). They expect themselves to be something other than they are.

Thing is, you’re you. Your writing is YOURS. You’ll never write like your heroes BUT ALSO they will never write like you. You can emulate and admire and learn from your favourite artists as much as you like – in fact, it’s one of the best ways to develop your own craft – but at the end of the day you can only be as YOU as possible.

So learn to appreciate what YOU can do. Celebrate YOUR little victories. Recognise YOUR potential. Toot toot.

And remember that you’re not done yet.

As Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert once said: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” 

Look at where you started, look at where you’ve come from, look at how you’ve grown, imagine where you’re going. There’s MOVEMENT there. There has to be. So long as you’re writing, you’re never standing still. So long as you’re writing, there are only steps forward. There are no steps back.

You may not be where you wanna be yet. And that’s fine. Your ambitions may be huge. And that’s a great thing. Just remember that you’re in the bit in the middle. And there may not be an end point. There may not be a moment where you think, “Yes, I’ve attained perfection,” because – if you’re really committed to your writing – you’re always going to want to be better, work harder, find a new way of telling a story. And isn’t that far more exciting than reaching a finite peak?

We quote this a lot, but Ira Glass’s magnificent explanation of The Gap is exactly what you need to hear if you’re struggling with the frustration of the whole process:

“The most important thing you can possibly do, is do a lot of work.
Do a huge volume of work.
Because it’s only by going through a large volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making is going to be as good as your ambitions.
But it’s going to take a while.”

TOOT #3: TRACK YOUR PROGRESS

What can you write about today that you couldn’t a year ago? Five years ago? Ten?

How far has your writing come in all that time? Or since last week, even? Since yesterday?!

Count your victories, no matter how small. Whether it’s a certain amount of words, a finished draft, a hundred unfinished drafts, sending a piece of writing out into the world for the first time, getting your first rejection, or publication – it doesn’t matter so long as it’s forward movement.

This is not a competition. You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone else. Rack up your own PERSONAL achievements and give each one a little toot:

  • I re-plotted my novel – TOOT!
  • I finally finished that story draft that’s been sitting on my hard drive for three years – TOOT!
  • I fixed that bloody plot hole that’s been driving me nuts – TOOT!
  • I had a brand new idea for a play… TOOT!
  • I was brave and swapped chapters with my writer friend for beta reading – TOOT TOOT!

TOOT ALL THE THINGS!

Toot them loud and clear!

Get used to tooting your own writing horn, proudly and unashamedly!

Keep on tooting until you start to believe your own damn hype.

And fuck anyone who tells you otherwise.

[If you want a friendly, supportive place to test out your new tooting abilities, come and toot freely on our writing forums – they’re full of writers just like you who need a little pep and prompting. Join us!]

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