Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Work and No Play* Makes A Dull Writer by Karin Gillespie

 Have you ever read the work of a young, uncorrupted writer? It’s like venturing into a jungle: Fresh. Green. Wild. Monkeys beating their furry chests. Parrots shrieking. Anacondas curling around trees. A chaos of creativity.

Such a writer is ruled almost entirely by her subconscious. The subconscious—let’s call her Crazy Daisy -- doesn’t know the difference between a gerund and a dangling participle; she only cares about expressing herself. Writing is play not work.

Unfortunately Crazy Daisy, charming as she is, has a problem: Her work meanders like a toddler strewing petals at a wedding: she needs to be reigned in.
Enter Ms. Grind.

 Ms. Grind cares about the rules.

She’ll tell Crazy Daisy that a sentence can’t run on for three pages or that exclamation points shouldn’t be showered over a page like pepper. She’s so bossy and judgmental she frightens away Crazy Daisy. Ms. Grind doesn’t care; she doesn’t needs that wild little girl hanging around anyway. Yet when she tries to have fun with her prose, it’s scary like having Dick Cheney ask you to pull his finger. Most of her writing comes out freeze-dried and soulless.  

Fact is, all writers are slightly schizophrenic, their mind divided between Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind. We usually start out dominated by Crazy Daisy but once we immerse ourselves into  the sea of endless writing rules, Ms. Grind tends to take over.  

Can Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grim live harmoniously in a writer’s head? In other words, is it possible to create prose that’s technically proficient but also has passion, wonder, and playfulness? Yes, but only if you allow Crazy Daisy and Ms Grim to play to their strengths.

New ideas usually come from Crazy Daisy.

You’re talking a walk or daydreaming and suddenly… BAM! You get a great idea. Crazy Daisy, impetuous minx, wants to start writing immediately. It’s like she has a case of diarrhea. You’ll be tempted to run with her. Don’t do it. Stop and take a moment to diaper the little imp.

Believe it or not, it’s time to bring Ms. Grind into the equation—not to shoot down the idea--but to structure it. Ms. Grinds loves outlines and plans and she’s good at them. After a little structure work, she might find that the idea isn’t workable after all. Sadly not all of Crazy Daisy’s ideas are golden. She likes to take risks and some don’t pay off.   

In fact, it’s wise to begin with every writing session with Ms. Grind and structure your thoughts when you sit down to write, whether to compose a short scene or a brief essay. You’ll satisfy Ms. Grind and give Crazy Daisy some perimeters. T.S. Elliot summarized this process:

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its upmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.

Keep Ms. Grind Out of Your First Drafts  

Once structure’s in place, time to let Crazy Daisy loose. Allow her to scribble on walls, turn somersaults or eat paste. Sometimes she might break down structural walls and that’s okay too. Ms. Grind, however, isn’t allowed in.  Why? Because she’ll keep up a steady stream of inner dialogue that sounds something like this:

That sentence was abysmal. It must be fixed immediately. Can’t you do anything right? Who do you think you are, passing yourself as a writer?

Occasionally Crazy Daisy interjects, bringing flashes of brilliance, but mostly it’s Ms. Grind who stands over the writer, wielding her ruler.  

Not surprisingly Ms. Grind doesn’t give up her authority easily. How can you keep her out of your head when you're drafting?

Learn How to Break the Judgment Habit

Most people aren’t aware of the stream of criticism flowing in their mind while they’re writing. Thinking is so fast and transitory; it can be hard to catch Ms. Grind’s endless digs. That why it’s helpful to develop a habit of sitting quietly and meditating for fifteen minutes each day. Ms Grind will no do doubt object saying, “What a ridiculous idea.  Do you realize we’re wasting valuable writing time sitting around doing nothing?”

She’s no dummy. Ms. Grind knows that meditation is the best way to access all of Crazy Daisy’s wild brilliance.  Meditation helps you to recognize Ms. Grind’s judgmental thoughts, and to ignore them when you’re drafting a piece.

When Crazy Daisy takes over the draft, watch out, because diamonds and gold nuggets will start shooting out of your computer. BEWARE. Don’t pat yourself on the back because that, too, is a judgment and any time you make a judgment, you’re issuing an invitation to Ms. Grind. The time for judgment, positive or negative, is in the re-write. Not now.

Writing will suddenly be fun again and as effortless as letting out a whoop of joy. You’ll find yourself falling in love all over again.

One caveat: Crazy Daisy is very messy.

When you go back to revise, you might be horrified at the results. Yes, the writing was intoxicating but the hangover’s a killer.  Ms. Grind will say, “I told you so.”  Don’t listen to her. Simply ask her to help you clean it up. She’ll balk at first, saying, “If you left things to me there wouldn’t so much clutter.”

True but neither would there be so much fresh, wild writing. Give it a try and see. It can be a little disorienting. You might not even recognize your own prose. By the way, there’s an easy way to tell which personality dominates your writing. If you love the drafting phase and hate structure and rewriting, Crazy Daisy probably dominates your writing. If you like outlines, loathe the drafting phase and love to polish your prose, you need a T-shirt that says “Team Ms. Grind.”    
*If you resisted reading this article, thank Ms.Grind. She’s not interested in articles about making writing fun. It threatens her authority. She much prefers list articles like “Ten Ways To Punch Up Your Dialogue.” They’re useful; this article is a waste of time. Crazy Daisy, indeed.  

Karin Gillespie is novelist. Follow her @gillespiekarin.  


  1. Great post Karin! I need to go let that Crazy Daisy out of her cage--starting a brand new book soon!

  2. I love this! Thanks for making me feel much better about my schizophrenic writing persona.

  3. Love this, Karin! I have been gagging my Crazy Daisy of late, and I'm not so sure it's been a good thing. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

    See. Now I feel better.

  4. A fun post and oh so true. I enjoyed reading this and realized I have a crazy Daisy and then my poor Grim person has to come in and clean up. But it makes it more fun for them both. They both feel very important in the writing. I like making everyone feel good, you know?

  5. Crazy Daisy is definitely my favorite friend, but alas, I also need Ms. Grind. Great post, Karin! :)

  6. Thanks, Lucy, Judy, Sandra, Juanita and Jill. Thanks Jill for the tweet too!

  7. Karin, you are brilliant! I am struggling with a first draft now, and Crazy Daisy would love to take over but Ms. Grind is always there, rapping her on the knuckles with a ruler. I keep saying, "Can't we all just get along?" Yeesh. It's like trying to herd cats. ;-)

  8. Karin, I love this!! I was nodding my head up and down as I read.

  9. Bless you, Karin. Finally a rational explanation for my dissociative identity disorder! Terrific blog!

  10. Love this, Karin! Just call me Daisy Grind.

  11. Thanks Susan. I know you will work it out beautifully. Thanks, Laura, Brenda and Wendy.

  12. What a fun post, Karin!! I now understand why my office is so messy... Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind have clearly been having a tug-o-war in the middle of it ;).

  13. What a fun and eerily accurate depiction of my writing struggles!

  14. Karin
    This is a fabulous post! Truly. So thoughtful and accurate. I enjoyed every word.

  15. Great post. I haven't seen Crazy Daisy in sooo long. I have to call up that girl, see how she's doing.

  16. Go Team Grind! Loved this, Karin.

    I'm writing a first draft now and must release my inner Crazy Daisy... :)

  17. "Scary like Dick Cheney asking you to pull his finger" may be the best line I've read on a blog this year, maybe anywhere this year! I'll rub the L off my keyboard if I tried to type how hard I LOLed at that!!!

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