Don’t overthink, just write

blah blah blah In my usual efforts to avoid the work I really need to do – write my book – I find myself reading all sorts of articles related to writing. All offering positive advice with the best intentions appearing on blogs, and educational and professional writing sites. I like to see what’s out there hoping I might learn something new. And I’ve come to a conclusion: there are a lot of overthinkers out there offering superfluous advice to aspiring writers. In turn, these nascent writers are online seeking quick solutions to their questions and hurdles allowing them to become passive about their art. Not good.

Overthinker on opposite gender writing.

One overthinker’s piece snagged me with its barbed hook; I needed to read it. His article was built around the idea that male writers need to be in touch with and comprehend feminism in order to write female characters. But it has to be right kind of feminism, otherwise it means some entirely different vague thing that was never clearly described.

Look, I’m paraphrasing here, and I’m intentionally not linking the article in question as I’m not looking for a fight. There are hundreds more like it, if you don’t believe me I challenge you to see this Google search. This is a genuine link to Google and will not show anything bad. It’s safe for work, it’s even safe for preschool. I promise.

The article was overwrought with justifications for the apparent complexity of the female character issue, playing off the idea that male writers just can’t write female characters. Rather, they write about their ideals of what women should be or their disdain for women. Essentially creating archetypes, not characters, or more likely stereotypes. Male writers spend all of their time describing male characters by carefully not making them female because they can’t overtly give male and female characters certain anatomical parts to define their genders. And it went on and on and on. I wondered if Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates would agree with this guy’s perspective.

I stopped halfway. My brain produced an agonizing scream as it processed this convoluted mess. I’ve underestimated its vocalization capabilities all these years. It was brutal. I hope it never happens again. Ever.

So, here’s the deal, my advice to you.

Ignore that overthought stuff, it’s not helping you. If you’re male and you need to write a female character – do it. Don’t overthink it, don’t make assumptions, just write what feels right. Write what you know, what you don’t know, what makes sense for the story, what makes it a great story. Reality will reveal itself. The female character will come across just as authentic as your male character. It doesn’t hurt to make sure one of your readers is female. There are those little societal gender cues that are easy to miss. For example, you’ll rarely ever hear a woman say, “I gotta go take a piss.”

This advice is multidisciplinary and cross-functional. And universal!

No subject escapes the death grip of overthinking. Overthinkers are another manifestation of what we know as red tape in government and multiple layers of bureaucratic management in a corporation. I’m still searching for the source of these unnecessary convolutions, my current theory is that they are rooted in human nature. The fact that everyone feels a need to have control, to have a say in how things are done. To be armchair philosophers and basement dwelling anthropologists exploring the human condition with nothing more than the tool that gives you access to all things, the Internet. Laziness combined with ego. A dreadful combination.

I mock and joke. But in reality, ninety-eight percent* of the time I ignore that stuff when I write. And so should you.

Don’t overthink, just write.

* That other two percent is used for locating source material for blog entries like this. Time well spent.

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4 thoughts on “Don’t overthink, just write

  1. David,
    This was an interesting post and I think you are on point here. I’ve been to writing groups and we never get to the writing – but we talk about how we write, what we need, and how to make it happen. We gossip about books we love. And in reality there is only one thing I want when I leave. Ass-in-writing-chair is the only thing that works for me. It is work. And these groups, like these articles, are justifying why they are writers, but there is no real substance to what they are talking about. I am frustrated by that kind of “advice without any real advice” articles and posts.

    However, I think there is a place and time to think and perhaps over-think. As a quasi-academic, I believe when you are not writing creatively, writers should be working on ways to be better readers, better critics, better writers. And I feel this part of the discipline is missing in a lot of writers. “I don’t know why, but I didn’t like your story,” is pretty common. “I don’t know what is going on there, but it doesn’t work.” That simply isn’t good enough. If you don’t know why, you need to find out. And that is where I would like to expand the thinking of writers in workshops and mentoring. Tim Weed’s blog is great because he speaks to writers and shows examples in concrete terms. It isn’t long and profound. It is – here, look how well this is working… and he is done. I agree, some of these articles and ideas are distractions and some are just absurd. And when you are writing creatively – you have to trust instincts and experience to be productive. But I would like writers to let go of the magic of writing (we all know it is important, but it isn’t magic – it is a powerful process at work!) and work on articulating purpose and cause that moves beyond their stories and characters and into the shaping of narrative craft. If that is over thinking then I might be guilt.

    Be well — Ron

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    • Hey Ron,

      Thanks for continuing the conversation on this. I wouldn’t consider your thoughts on understanding the why as overthinking, it’s a critical piece of the craft. It’s really up to those writers seeking out the advice to sort through the nonsense to find the valuable stuff, like Tim Weed’s Storycraft. I wonder if Tim will pick up on us talking about him.

      At the one writing group I’ve attended, I was fortunate to actually receive direct feedback to my work in progress, luckily not like what you described. However, I have attended meetings in the workplace that talk about the issue at hand without ever delving into planning actions. It’s frustrating to say the least.

      Thanks for chiming in. I hope to see more responses like this. Much appreciated.

      David

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  2. I have to agree with Ron that a lot of the overthinking is avoidance behavior but I also believe excessive rumination is an attempt to rationalize a lack of trust in the process. People who practice writing, or any other discipline, long enough and well enough learn that the work itself teaches you more than most of the classes, lectures, multimedia presentations, or coffee-soaked conversations do. There’s only so much you can learn without doing and the theoretical’s only going to take you so far.

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