10 Things to Learn about Writing from Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss

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from Cléo Charuet´s studio wall and / or Peter Fischli & David Weiss

I found this photo on a great blog on redbubble.com and think it is really has a lot to teach us about writing. Peter and David are fine artists, but I’ve thought a lot about these concepts and how they apply to me and my writing work.

1. By working on only one project at a time, I find I am less distracted and better able to get quality work done. Putting down one word right after the other will get me to the end. Sitting at my desk thinking of all the projects I haven’t done gets me nowhere. We are not as great at multi-tasking as we think.

2. What is the problem your MC is trying to solve? Is your character just telling us their thoughts and feelings or are they doing something to solve a problem? A great fix for writing that doesn’t move your audience in any way. Check out this funny post by Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project about The Secret to Creating the Elusive Emotional Connection in Writing.

3. Instead of listening, try to be a listening for possibility in your life. I try to be a listening for what it is I want to accomplish with my writing as well. By being a listening for something very specific, it will often show up unexpectedly. I also like to make my computer read my works in progress. Even though it sounds like Stephen Hawking is reading my words back to me, I still get a sense of rhythm and timing and whether I’m repeating certain phrases or using confusing language. It also makes me laugh when the computer pronounces things in a completely inappropriate way. The Listening Project is an interesting documentary that asks the question, “What does the world think about America?”

4. A lot of my writing time is spent asking questions. What does my MC want? Why do they want that? What are they going to do to get it? What obstacles are in the way? What tactics are they using to try to get what they want? Also, “Is my coffee mug full?” If it isn’t, time to take a break and refill it.

5. I always wait until polishing for this one. I try to turn off that inner voice that keeps saying, “This is nonsense” over and over, endlessly repeating itself in my head like my four-year-old when he wants a piece of candy that I’ve said he can’t have. Just let everything out in the first draft and then go back and find the sense in the nonsense.

6. Change is inevitable. I’m a plotter. I like a to have my beats worked out before I start. I often find the story changing as I work on it. The characters will say or do something that takes the story in an awesome direction but veers from the original idea. I try to let this play itself out and not worry about it too much. I try to trust that my brain has worked on the problems of the story while I’ve been doing laundry, taking a shower, trying to get the four-year-old down for a nap. I hope I never get too rigid not to embrace change, because every time I have, I’ve had an amazing adventure because of it.

7. Sometimes, I write for several hours and realize that what I’ve spent all that time on won’t make it into the final draft. But I know that these “mistakes” are important to get to the next level of writing that I have to do. I often teach my students that mistakes are an important part of the process. We are all human. We do not know exactly how to do things perfectly every time. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as fun to do. Make mistakes, admit them, and move on. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray from Goodreads.com

8. Say it simple. Going back through first drafts I search for where I’m trying too hard. Having an editor or a beta reader can be really useful for this.

9. Breathe. Everyone, at some point, feels exactly as you do now as you are trying to write. Know this and be calm. Keep putting one word after the other. Get to the end. Read this great article on How Succesful People Stay Calm on Forbes.com.

10. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, neither will your readers. Smile, even in the midst of the difficulties, knowing that you are doing something that other people only dream about doing.There is even some research to suggest that the physical act of smiling, even if you don’t feel happy, can lead to feelings of happiness. Try it!

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