Jerry Cleaver writes in Immediate Fiction, “The less you care, the better you write. The harder you try, the worse it gets.”
I agree with him wholeheartedly. I know the harder I try, the more frustrated I get, and the more frustrated I am, the more tortured my writing becomes. Cleaver explains that when you are trying hard, you are trying for too much control and you judge every move you make. Your writing then becomes stiff and dull. The idea is not to stop caring, because that’s impossible, but to find a way to let go and get out of the way. Then your writing will be more alive and exciting.
Cleaver’s suggestion is to just keep writing, because the more you write, the more you will loosen up. But if you’ve been struggling with your writing, this may seem counterintuitive. How could more of the same lead to a something different ? After all, Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
But there is wisdom in Cleaver’s suggestion to write more, but not necessarily about what you’ve been struggling with. Writing about something completely different or something you are not vested in does wonders to stretch your creative muscles. Cross-training loosens that grip of trying too hard and really does keep your writing alive and exciting.
At the Tuesday night writers’ group we decided to try a writing exercise that none of us had done before. We agreed to pen a page or two about the same famous character and share it at our next gathering. Having fun with it was the goal. The lucky character we chose was Charlie Brown.
I ask you, how could writing about Charlie Brown not be any fun? It was a blast! For all of us the pressure was off and we wrote quickly and easily. We weren’t vested in the exercise —so we cared less about the outcome and didn’t get caught up in trying harder. And not surprisingly, we laughed a lot as we shared what we had written.
There is something to be said for letting go, getting out of the way and allowing your writing to flow. But old habits die hard and new ones don’t root easily. Saying to yourself “The less I care, the better I write, ” is a good reminder to stay loose and to not try harder. Repeating it will help the new and welcomed habit take hold.
–Mary Ellen McLean