Stacks of paper

10 Steps to (Relatively) Painless Fiction-writing

For all of you aspiring writers who have ever had to face the process of actually writing something, fear not! Below is a step-by-step guide that is guaranteed to get your story written with minimum effort and maximum caffeine consumption.

Step 1: Assignment

You receive an assignment from your professor to write a 30-page short story. Think about what you want to write about. Then get distracted and forget about your idea. Put the assignment sheet in your bag. Forget about it until two days before it’s due, and then realize you’ve lost it. Consider emailing your professor to ask for a new one. Chicken out and decide to wing it.

Step 2: Begin

Figure out where you’re going to write your story. Typed in a Word document, written in a journal, or scrawled on a cave wall. Stare at your blank canvas and contemplate all of the life choices that brought you to this point. Write one word. Erase it. Write something else. Erase that, too. Write in gibberish until you feel confident enough to tackle the English language.

Step 3: Get Inspired

The world is full of inspiration. Ignore it. Chase the story idea that has been following you around like a monster in a slasher movie. Spin around suddenly, shine a flashlight in its face, and say, “Aha! I am going to write about you after all!”

Step 4: Cry

At this point, the stress of actually creating something from nothing and being graded on it has hit you. Crying is a necessary part of the artistic process. Cry in front of your computer. Decide that maybe you should try writing by hand, then cry over your notebook. Buy a new notebook after your tears have smudged what you’ve written. Cry about characters, setting, plot, and basically everything else that’s going wrong. Then fix it. Let your frustration fuel you until you cry about how beautiful your story has become.

Step 5: Delete

Find the very best thing you’ve written in this story. Delete it. It doesn’t work. It’s cliche and pretentious. Take it out. Everyone hates it.

Step 6: Share

Find someone whom you love and trust. Do not give them your story. They will lie to you and tell you that it is great when it is really the worst thing they have ever read. Ask your more candid friends, siblings, and mortal enemies to read and critique your work.

Step 7: Revise

After spell-checking and smoothing out your prose, rewrite the entire thing. Change the point of view. Tell the story of a minor character that was only mentioned once. Re-think your entire narrative structure, and instead of words, turn in an evocative finger painting to your professor.

Step 8: Commit

Reconsider your elaborate revisions. Your story will never be perfect, but believe that even though what you’ve written may not be the best, it’s your best.

Step 9: Print

Finish your story and decide to settle for what you have, partly because you don’t want to do a 46th draft and mostly because it’s due in two hours. Print out 12 copies for your workshop. Wait for all 180 pieces of paper amidst the glares of your impatient fellow students. Collect your papers. Find one typo. Reprint it all. Run out of staples. Repeat step 4.

Step 10: Recycle

Your professor informs you that your draft isn’t actually due until the next class. Stare blankly into the empty distance. Reflect on your unnecessary suffering. Throw your story into the recycling bin. Open a new Word document.

Repeat steps 1-10.

Photo by Graham Holliday