Thursday, January 27, 2011

Maxey's Mantras

James Maxey, author of Dragonforge and Dragonseed, explains his five writing mantras over at Jawbone of an Ass. Excerpts:
These are the most important truths of writing I've learned to date. At various points in the past, I've posted all these rules in various configurations, but, these are my writing mantras, and the whole point of a mantra is that it's something you repeat:

1. The worst novel you put on paper is better than the best novel you have in your head.

Suppose you sit down and bang out a manuscript that is, in your judgment, utter crap. Guess what? Other people can read crap. They can read your manuscript and tell you what they like and didn't like. On the other hand, that golden, gleaming, perfect novel that exists only inside your skull is completely unreadable by anyone other than yourself. ...

5. Little by little, the work gets done.

For the most part, when I set a word count goal for a week, I meet that word count goal for a week. But, it's also definitely not unheard of for me to blow a word count goal, sometimes severely. Inky black pools of despair open before me during these times as I wonder just what ever made me think I was any good at this game. ...

So then I start feeling guilt. I'm skipping writing to go to dinner? I'm skipping writing to enjoy sunshine? Are these such rare events that I should toss aside my pursuit of art? Is the sun slated to stop shining tomorrow and this is my last chance ever to enjoy it? Well, maybe it is. Who knows? So when all my big blocks of the time disappear, for happy reasons or sad, I start making bargains. ... The more moments I steal, the easier it is to transition back into stealing hours.
Read the whole thing. If you've been writing for any time at all, I doubt you'll find Maxey's mantras surprising. I also doubt you'll find them to be anything but pure gold. For myself, I find that I need such basic reminders against perfectionism and time-management-induced dejection. After all, the fundamentals are something we never really progress beyond. They are the bedrock upon which the edifice rests, the skeleton that supports the entire body.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


C. N. Nevets said...

Thanks for sharing this, Loren. The guilt one is a huge deal for me. I need that reminder constantly.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

#3 is my favorite.

Of course, I teach writing, and that applies well beyond fiction. If I had a dollar for every time I encountered a student who turned into a nervous wreck because of the belief that the first sentence put on a piece of paper must be perfect, well, I might have less worries about going to Rome this summer. If I had a dollar for every encounter with a student who (with more confidence) wrote one draft and considered the affair finished, I might have the start of a very good retirement account.

In our writing center, we have a poster showing two drafts of a couplet from T.S. Eliot's marvelous "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

The first reads:

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred sights and delights,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The second has "sights and delights" marked out, and replaced with "visions and revisions." If you've ever read the poem in full, you know that the first was filler, which let Eliot move on, and the second is infinitely better.

B. Nagel said...

It's the periodic reminders that get me most. Because I'm not learning anything new, just blowing the dust off of something I've known for ages and just forgotten.

A mantra's no good unless you repeat it.

Ben Mann said...

Yet another blog I now have to subscribe to... thanks Loren :)

Loren Eaton said...


Yeah, same here. My lack of productivity can really get to me.

Loren Eaton said...


Moving on is so tough, though. I share Anne Lamott's fear that I'll write first draft, get hit by a bus while crossing the street, and everyone will read the tripe I just finished. First drafts are devestating to one's psyche.

Rome, you say? Lucky dog.

Loren Eaton said...


I'll second (and third and fourth) that!

Loren Eaton said...


It's a good one! Fortunately, James doesn't update it at an incredible rate, so it's easy to keep up with.