Why is writing hard?

Damien Walter
A free video tutorial from Damien Walter
Writer for The Guardian, BBC, Wired.
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The Technology of Fiction : write great novels and stories

An ongoing series of talks by Damien Walter on the art and technology of fiction writing

01:27:58 of on-demand video • Updated June 2020

  • How to master the key technologies of fiction writing.
English [Auto] Hello my name's Damien Walter. Welcome to the writing practice. Why is writing hard imagine when you sit down to write that in fact two people are sitting down. One of them is a kind of crazy old hippie and he's like Hey man I just want to tell a story and it's going to have God Zen and it's going to sweep into the heart of the human soul and it's going to make the reader cry tears. And the other person is like an uptight corporate middle manager and he listens to the old hippie and he says Okay what's the first sentence. And the old hippie doesn't know the old way we can think of the story but it takes person to the uptight middle manager to actually do the writing. And this is literally how your creative mind as a writer works it has two parts. These parts have different names in psychotherapy person. One is the subconscious and the other kind of dreamy mind that all of your creativity initially comes from and Person 2 is the ego and they deal with the real world and they're trying to think about how is this dream actually going to become a reality. You can take a religious view of it. You can think that person one is like God. He's like the messages coming from somewhere outside in person who is like the self the mortal man who has to interpret this and put it into words. In neuroscience though these two different parts of our creative self have very specific names. They're called system one and System Two System One is the part of your brain that really does everything important like it governs your whole body. It deals with your nervous system. It keeps your heart beating. It does absolutely everything that keeps you alive it processes all the millions of signals coming in from out of the world system too. On the other hand is the part of your mind that you're actually aware of it's your conscious self and for anything to happen System 2 has to do it. And that includes writing. So the real trick of overcoming the difficulties of writing is getting system one and system to working together. How do we do this. I want to be very clear on something that if you want to get system one and system to working together effectively you have to train system too. If you listen to a lot of people talking about creativity they will try and tell you that there is some secret way that you can not learn anything you can not develop any techniques or skills and you can just rely on system 1 and it will do all of your creating for you and I'm sorry but this is wrong and you will waste a lot of time trying to learn anything that way. So you have to train if you want to be a writer you have to learn the skills you have to learn about words. If you're working in the English language for instance you have to learn the difference between Latin and Anglo Saxon words two different languages came together to form English and which language you use will make a big difference to how people perceive you. You have to learn about sentences. You have to be able to construct a good cumulative sentence or perhaps even a periodic sentence. Do you know the difference. This is the kind of thing you pick up in training. You have to be able to separate your paragraphs. If you're working with characters you need to understand beats so that you can write dialogue properly. These are the skills that a writer you have to learn them. Otherwise you'll find it very difficult to put anything effective into the world. And when I say training I don't mean reading books I mean [REMOVED] karate kid wax on wax off a hundred times a thousand times ten thousand times to actually develop these skills. That's what training is and that's how you get system to your pedantic uptight corporate middle manager to actually write well system one on the other hand is still there and what the old hippy wants is just to be listened to be in New loves the idea of self expression and it loves the idea of understanding the whole universe and everything in it and that's what system one is very good at and it comes out with wonderful ideas and it tries to tell them to system to assistant to [REMOVED] ignores them. You have to get your pedantic Corporal many middle manager to listen to the old hippie in you. And when these two guys work together effectively Daniel starts to produce really really good writing. And then slowly being hard writing will once again be fun writing will be cathartic. And this is what the writing practice is about. If you approach your writing not as a task not as a dream and not as a job and knows a way to make money but as a practice a way to grow a way to learn skills and to apply them to your imagination. Then you start to find that your writing develops you develop strongly and it develops quickly and the writing practice is all about providing you with ways to develop your practice as a writer.