Pep Talk from Diana Gabaldon

The greatest thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. The most horrifying thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. Contemplation of that dichotomy is enough to stop most people dead in their tracks.

Success in writing—and by that, I mean getting the contents of your head out onto the page in a form that other people can relate to—is largely a matter of playing mind games with yourself. In order to get anywhere, you need to figure out how your own mind works—and believe me, people are not all wired up the same way.1

Casual observation (i.e., talking to other writers for thirty years or so) suggests that about half of us are linear thinkers. These people really profit from outlines and wall-charts and index cards filled out neatly in blue pen with each character’s shoe size and sexual history (footnoted if these are directly correlated). The rest of us couldn’t write that way if you paid us to.

Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere at any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…

Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. Anything that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.

Do you write in disconnected bits, where you can see things happening? I do.

Do you write in ten or fifteen minute chunks, when that’s all the time you have? I sure do. (I mean, it’s nice to have unlimited time, but nobody ever does. Nobody ever finds time, either—you make it, or you haven’t got any.)

Blap down a rough draft in a blazing roar of creation? No, I never do that—I fiddle and creep and go back and forth and back and forth; I don’t have rough drafts; I have finished scenes. They just aren’t connected to anything…

But no matter how you write, it’s always you and the page. And the page isn’t in a position to tell you anything you do is wrong. Therefore…anything you do must necessarily be the Right Way to Write. Go for it!

1. This is why you can read an article purporting to tell you How to Write, and discover that you just can’t write that way. That’s because the writer is not really telling you how to write; he or she is just explaining how they write. Maybe they have the same kind of brain you do—but maybe they don’t.

Read more author pep talks.