Just Shoot

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 1, 2014

Tips for WritersAlways shooting from the hip will not improve your aim, but sometimes you just have to shoot.

Writing a full-length fiction manuscript is a new target for me as a writer. It stretches everything I’ve learned about writing in my freelance and business career. And sometimes it paralyzes my draw.

Feeling paralyzed–as in, not knowing what to do next–can happen to anybody when he or she has stepped outside of what is known. For instance, get me talking about marketing, branding or how to use stories to engage people, and I can flow like a river spilling spring run-off from melting snow. But ask me about the revision process for 70,000 words and I might just shrug.

Thus I’ve found that I’m not even drawing my pistol, let along shooting at my target. If I don’t shoot, I won’t know how bad my current aim is. Even if I miss the target, I can see where I over shot, high or low. So instead of reading about targets and aiming, I decided to just shoot.

So how does this analogy translate to you as a writer? Here are some pointers that I’m learning from the process:

  1. Do something different. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. If you want different results, try a different approach. If you are struggling with character development, stop and work on a different scene or go back to your storyboard (or outline).
  2. Do something. If you aren’t even struggling with your revision, having set it aside and taken an interest in cleaning out the barn, or reorganizing your pen collection, or endlessly reading funny memes, you’ve become distracted or paralyzed. So do something. Sit down and speed-revise for 20 minutes, challenging yourself to read your pages. Or go write flash fiction, something unrelated to your novel (hint, hint, join me in writing flash every Wednesday). Do something that involves your writing, your craft, your voice.
  3. Examine your aim. Missing a shot can tell you much about your aim. First of all, know your target. Define it for you; not for your friends, your spouse, your colleagues. Know what are you aiming at in the first place. Then shoot that direction. When you miss, don’t turn critical because missing can give you valuable information. It can inform and reinvigorate your writing.
  4. Practice. We might hit the target shooting from the hip, but not consistently. Know what you are aiming at and practice. Writing flash can help you craft a creative idea in just a few words. Submitting short stories to publications and contests can help you practice the same elements that go into writing a novel. Commit to something like a writer’s workshop or National Novel Writing Month to practice the craft of noveling.
  5. Hang out with the right posse. Your great-aunt Tilly might love your writing, but think about getting involved with a productive writer’s group. Find one that fits your needs and your time. Or hang out with other social media writers who are also practicing craft or publishing books. If you want to publish independently, build a posse of Indies. If you are revising a mystery novel, build a posse of other mystery writers. Take a look at their shooting techniques. Share and learn from one another how to aim better.

Bottom line is this–if you are going to write, then write. Don’t talk about it, do it. Pay attention along the way and if you feel stuck or need to get to that next level, just shoot.

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  1. Caffe Maggieato

    Very useful tips thanks! We won’t know how far we can stretch ourselves if we don’t simply go for it. I think that’s the thing we have to keep reminding ourselves.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, and we remind ourselves when we remind others. Some days I have to put away all the calculations and just do it even if I miss.

  2. Norah

    Your flash fiction challenge has helped with #1. Really I just need to do it!

    • Charli Mills

      Flash can be that “something different” that aids our writing goals. I’m hoping that it’s encouragement for me to just do it, too!

  3. Diana Wenzel

    I spend a lot of time loading ammunition and never shooting. Time to get the gun out of the holster. I’m headed to the firing range. Thanks for nudging me to take the safety off and pull the trigger.

    • Charli Mills

      You shoot a lot, Diana and well. But I think you are ready for shooting at longer distances. I hope you have a creative non-fiction project in the near future and that all your current target practice will aid you in writing that bigger piece!

  4. happynutritionist

    This is a nice list of tips, I wish you well writing your manuscript.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Claudia! I just sent it off to an editor today.

  5. Annecdotist

    great tips and beautiful analogy – I couldn’t shoot to save my life (and can’t think why else I would want to) but your quirky angle on the writing process worked well for me. good luck with yours.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for saying so! My husband is a bench-rest shootist and enjoys the sport of targeting paper in one-inch groups. Once, visiting the gun range with him, I met some men who do “cowboy action” shooting with old-time powder pistols, rifles and shotguns. Their competition requires proficiency in all three. I discovered I like black powder and I learned to “just shoot.” An odd thing I suppose, but fits well this buckaroo writing persona.

  6. sylvestermouse

    Excellent tips and I have to say, they could easily be revised a bit to apply to a variety of things/projects/activities in life.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes–although I’m imagining that the quick draw of a glue-gun might get a tad messy! But that’s the point; not to be afraid of messing up; just do it and fix it (or revise it).

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