Forcing vs. Flowing in Writing

In my experience there are two ways to write.

Example 1. You frantically scribble away on the nearest napkin as inspiration strikes you at a very inopportune moment, and you’re left with a smudged copy to store away for the next month before you’re inspired enough to revisit it.

Example 2. You sit down at your desk and stare at the computer screen until your fingers begrudgingly begin to type.  Before you know it you have a very, very, rocky draft that vaguely resembles the scenery you meant to describe, and is left as such until you force yourself to edit it.

Pretty obvious which one is ‘going with the flow’ writing as opposed to ‘forced’ writing.  What isn’t so obvious?  Which one produces better writing.

I have arguments for both styles.  Ultimately I think it’s up to the writer to decide a certain combination of the two that works for them personally.  But- here are my thoughts on the matter.

Flow.  Everyone has had that lightning bolt of inspiration hit them.  It doesn’t even have to involve writing!  There’s a moment, where all of a sudden, things become clear, and you know what you have to do and what you want to do.   So you go and just do it.  That’s what happened to me when I went and saw the movie Hugo.  It inspired this short story.  And I’m pretty happy with the result.   The words just seemed to flow from out of my fingers, and I barely had to think about what I was writing.  I believe it’s this natural, raw inspiration that produces the most fluid and honest writing.

But if you only write when you’ve caught the lightning bug, those spurts can be few and far between.  Even if it produces some of our best work, we can’t completely rely on it.  Sometimes we have to hunker down and treat writing as what it really is: hard work.

Forced.  This is where we struggle, as writers, to produce our stories.  Every decent writer needs to spend time on their writing.  It’s like clocking in hours at a job.  Even if you don’t want to, or don’t feel like it, you need do it.  Why?

Because you can’t edit and perfect what isn’t on the page. 

This is especially true when you’re in it for the long haul.  Short stories and Flash Fiction are wonderful for the strikes of inspiration.  But when you enter novella and novel territory, more often than not there will be days when you force yourself to write the story, even if it isn’t flowing out of your fingertips.  It might not come out exactly as you want, unlike some of the spur of the moment stories, but you can always go back and edit.

So, if you’re like me, and just starting to realize you want to be serious about writing, then find that balance.  Be ready to find inspiration in unlikely places.  And if that fails, don’t be afraid to sit down and write against the current.  Take your own writing seriously.  Don’t let if fall by the wayside just because the words are struggling with you.

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About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

12 Responses to Forcing vs. Flowing in Writing

  1. Luarien says:

    I think that both of these aren’t distinct styles but strings on the same instrument of the writer’s craft. It is work, like all other art, and your inspiration starts the seed I think but you still have to sit down and toil, work, and refine.

    In that way, I think, writing is intellectually like sculpting, rather than painting. We first describe our mountain, we describe ourselves cutting the stone from it, then we hone those two things until we find the statue waiting inside. The mountain is our work, the stone we carve from it is our inspiration. In the end, though, if you didn’t have the magnitude of effort you put into it or the vision to see the story inside of the jumbled mess of letters and concepts, you’d end with nothing other than some wrist pain.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I did say styles didn’t I? I need to work on my word choice! 😉 I agree that they’re both parts of the same whole. It’s all about balance, like so many things in life.

      I hesitate about thinking of writing as sculpting. It seems so…set in stone. (Don’t kill me for bad puns!) We’re forever changing a piece of writing by drafting, editing, re-writing. I would personally liken it to painting, because each time we revisit a work, sure we edit and cut down, but we also add more color, depth, and life to it as we add on layers. I do see what you mean, though, because it is our duty as writers to dig through the mess in order to uncover the real story.

      • Luarien says:

        I think your wording’s generally fine, I was just being a little pedantic :3.

        Also, bad puns are part of what my world runs on and that was a magnificent one. The reason I say sculpting instead of painting is that with painting you can obscure mistakes and you can always build on top of what you already have. With writing,though, you can only add so much, part of it is necessarily scraping away the parts that don’t belong. It’s kind of a balance – putting up what you need but ensuring it’s never too much.

        That and I think painting is a really popular metaphor, sculpting deserves some love. 😀

  2. I always run into the problem of constantly editing my words as I type.

    I can’t seem to let anything stay still, settle in and relax before I get all twitchy and make changes to what I’ve already written. It’s a battle I’m hoping to win.

  3. Sara Flower says:

    This is so true! Balance is key. 🙂 Writing really is a lot like painting, isnt it?

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I think people can write a post about the importance of balance and virtually any topic they wanted! And I think it is, but then again, I think most all creative processes resemble each other…we’re all crazy! 😉

  4. Jo Eberhardt says:

    It’s all about Pavlov’s dogs.

    When you have a flash of inspiration, grab your pen and notebook (that, obviously, you keep with you at all times because you’re a career writer now) and start writing. After a sentence or two, turn on some music. Pick a particular song that resonates with your when you’re feeling creative.

    Do this every time you get a flash of inspiration.

    Then start every “forced” writing session by pulling out the same pen and notebook (you don’t have to write in it, you just have to see it) and turning on the same music. Force yourself to write.

    In time, your brain will start to pick up on the cues and every time you hear that piece of music and see that notebook, your brain will start to spit out inspiration. It’s a beautiful process.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I feel like there should be college courses on training writers to write. I’d sign up! It’s definitely a conditioning habit that I’ll have to spend some time working on. Thanks for the great input.

  5. Pingback: Blog Ideas || Silencing the Inner Critic « Scribbling Post

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