In praise of free writing

Free writing actually works! I can plot again.

Despite having been advised to write freely by nearly every writer and book that I’ve met and read, I still hadn’t believed that it would work. Writing whatever was on your mind non-stop and expecting to come up with something good sounded silly.

But after repeatedly writing half a page of ‘I want to write well’, or something to that effect, my anxiety and frustration were flushed away. I started brainstorming, trying not to break the flow of words I’d built up, and in just half an hour, I came up with a rough plot synopsis for the first third of my novel.

I will never doubt timeless writing advice again. I’m still not sure if free writing can directly produce brilliant ideas, but I think it has a wonderful detoxifying effect on a writer. Now I know that the best way for a writer to find the energy to write is by writing.

I’m grateful to K. S. Villoso for nudging me into free writing. I’d heard of it many times before, but her comment made me take the final leap.

The difficulties of plotting, continued

I think the most difficult part of plotting isn’t coming up with ideas. There are always plenty of things that can happen.

What I’m finding really hard is getting my plot to make sense. That doesn’t just mean avoiding errors in logic, like plot holes. It means aligning my plot with my character arc and the emotional journey of my story. I need to make sure that my plot is making both my characters and readers feel. When my characters reach their emotional climaxes, I want my plot to climax too.

The difficulties of plotting

I’d never known how hard creating a plot was until I started doing it.

My characters are nearly ready. They’re standing on the sidelines of my story, waiting patiently to be given their lines. If only I could tell them what to do!

I’m not even trying to make my plot clever or unpredictable. I just want constant action—a book without any sluggishness. Why is that so hard to achieve?

Creating characters

My protagonist is becoming an unlikeable man; if he was real, I wouldn’t want his company.

His foil, the deuteragonist, is increasingly resembling my old history-teacher—both in what I know of him and how I always imagined he’d act outside of school. It makes me wish that I still remembered his name.

The importance of rereadability

I feel frustrated with the writing advice I’ve been consuming on WordPress.com. It’s not that the advice is bad. The writers I’ve met have mostly been experienced and genuinely interested in the craft.

But it’s all too practical. By that, I mean that most of it is centred around the real world. Build an online platform to let people know you exist; invest in a good-looking cover to entice shoppers; write a gripping first chapter so that they’ll buy it.

Too many articles I’ve read want to rush writers from platform to publisher, then from publisher to bestseller list, as if writing fiction was an obstacle course. But I don’t want to appease the world. It’s actually quite the opposite: I read and write stories because I like turning my back on reality.

I know that WordPress.com writers mean well. Many authors here have achieved more than I ever have, and they want to help others to do the same. Despite this, I feel stifled. Even worse, I feel as though I’m losing sight of the passion which made me decide to write a novel in the first place.

My discontent made me think about rereadability. Rereadability is not a quality which is immediately useful to a writer attempting to boost book sales, since readers don’t buy the same book twice to reread it.

However, it is highly sought after by readers. Every bookworm longs to discover a book he’ll read again and again—a book to make a lifelong companion out of. Very few readers are looking for books they’ll finish and shelve forever.

I don’t mind reading a book which I won’t return to, in the same way that I find it acceptable to eat food that I’ll only digest once. But by nature, I am a reader who wants to reread books, and that means I’m a writer who wants to write rereadable books. In fact, it is the rereadable novels in my life which inspired me to start creating my own. Single-read books don’t bring out the urge to write in me.

So what have I learnt from this episode of introspection?

What I don’t want:

  • I don’t want to become a bestselling author. Caring about numbers and social influence was never what made me take up writing.
  • I don’t want to reach number one on any list. I don’t want to reach the top five, or ten, of any list.
  • Strangely enough, I don’t want to win any literary prizes, although I probably wouldn’t mind stumbling into one.

What I want:

  • I want to listen to my readers telling each other why they love my characters.
  • I’m in my mid-twenties, and I want a readership that will still remember the books I write now when I’m an old woman.
  • I want to enjoy reading my books over and over again.
  • I want to write novels that I like so much that I’d be glad that someone had written them even if it hadn’t been me.

I don’t think about my native language often, but there is a word in it that I believe is important for any artist. The word ‘chosim’ in Korean means ‘original intention’ or ‘initial resolution’. It is to that first creative impulse that I will have to return to for guidance whenever I stray from my passion for writing.