This post is especially for those of us who like to do things right. First time. Every time.
One never knows — we argue with ourselves, or our muse — who may come across our scribblings one day and, heaven forbid, find that we didn’t use our hyphens properly in our writing. I’m not talking about popping a book up on Amazon while it’s still riddled with typos and drowning in clichés and shredded by a dozen participles that look lost and unhappy with where they have been told to dangle and the breathless run-on sentences that tend to . . . leave you breathless.
You get the picture!
Is this you? (No, I know that’s Mrs Pitt).
You are finally ready to write the opening line of chapter 1. Man, you are so stoked and ready to rock. The muse has been whispering sweet-nothings in your ear (which, in writer-speak, means that you have been gifted with a S-T-O-R-Y). So you write your story:
John sat in the chair and looked at the television set.
You blink and reread the sentence. The muse groans and rolls her eyes. Not because of the sentence. She sees who’s standing in the doorway. Your muse is not amused and drifts off to her hiding place. If you were half as observant as you claim to be (we all know that writers are supposed to see everything, know everything, understand everything), you would at least take a peek to see where her hidey-hole is, so that you can drag her out there later when you really need her. Or you could lure her out with chocolate!
Anyway, she’s gone and look who’s here. Come for a quick chat? [Sorry, he’s busy writing . . . nudge and wink].
Enter . . . the Editor (always a capital ‘E’). We’ll call him MISTER Editor.
But you are oblivious to his entrance. You don’t see his tiny, mean eyes and pinched, sour face. If ever there was a story slayer, it’s him. And, without realising it, you offer him a seat. In fact, you stop just short of offering him coffee and a bite of your cheese sandwich.
Okay. We all see him now, the editor in the room.
Nervously, show him your first line. Mr Editor smiles and shakes his head. You know what he’s thinking.
You can’t write. To save your life.
Mr Editor hands the words back to you. A few words that form the seed of a story you just know you have within you. Eleven words, in fact. You counted them. And then you begin the editing process.
Should that be TV instead of television? But then the rhythm of the sentence is gone.
Where’s the imagery? I need to grab the reader somehow. Or maybe I should make it two sentences and scrap the and. Nice and choppy.
Maybe I should change his name. John is such a common name. Perhaps I should google some men’s names before starting. Yes. That’s it. I’ll do my research first and then write my book.
And Mr Editor nods approvingly and leaves you to your work, but it’s difficult. Who would have thought a muse could snore in such an unladylike manner? Maybe there is something on the television. TV. You could always do your research later. Maybe.
That’s exactly what happens when you allow the editor in before his time. Editing is such an important part of writing. I should know — it’s how I sing for my supper. But the timing of the editing can mean the difference between churning out one novel a year and never getting one done in a lifetime.
I had precisely the same problem when I started writing creatively. I was so afraid to do a crummy job. If it didn’t match up to literary masterpiece standards, I wouldn’t even read it. So I started many great stories that died quietly after eleven words, or eleven pages. But then I found something that changed everything: The F.S.D.
The First Shitty Draft.
Yes, I gave myself permission to write a terrible first draft. One that I wouldn’t mind setting fire to ‘cos it was that bad. And presto, it happened. I wrote copiously, and it was fun. I enjoyed every single moment of it. I wrote my first book. More importantly, I loved it even before the editing process began, and all the way through the process, because I could see and hear and feel and touch my characters, the settings, etc.
This is four-step the process:
- Write fast
- Don’t look back. EVER! The Editor’s always there. Run, Forrest, run!
- Look very carefully at the scene you are about to write (you’ll find it in your head). Gather every detail. The oppressive heat [open the window], the sharp smell of the lavender air freshener, the melting bubblegum on the faded dashboard. The kids fighting in the back. Cliff Richard crooning in the back of your insane mind . . . We’re all going on a / Summer holiday.
- Go to step 1 and repeat the process.
There is nothing like allowing yourself to write with the freedom and passion of a three-year old with a permanent marker when mommy’s outside hanging up the laundry. You are ALLOWED to just have fun, to allow the creativity to romp in wild abandonment.
Yes, you will probably have to toss out a few chapters here and there. But it won’t matter, because you have so many more. Our problem is that we are word counters.
“I wrote 27 words today. And they are all spelled correctly. I am a genius because I don’t have grammatical issues in my writing. I take laxatives because I am anal–” We’ll leave it there, shall we?
How about writing ONE SCENE that is just so real and, man, you are so excited because you didn’t know that you could make people move and speak and do things? How about feeling the stickiness of the blood with your fingers, or feeling the pain of the father as he watches his 7 year-old son die after a short battle with leukaemia. That father is crying real tears, and he has real snot dripping from his nose. And he doesn’t know if he can even make it to the bathroom to throw up. The baseball tickets he bought two months ago are still in his pocket. Two months ago! When the world was still a good place.
You find that you have such POWER. You can create people and scenes and sadness and joy and plots and dialogue and. . . What did you say? I don’t create anything?
Sorry. It’s true. YOU don’t create ANYTHING and you don’t make anyone do ANYTHING. If you are a good boy or girl, and you sit quietly and observe, you get to see what they are doing. And all you do is write…it…down. That’s it!
Writers don’t create. Builders do that. And stage designers.
We relate. We tell the story as truthfully as we can. We see it happen in our heads and we just explain it so that others can see it. And the best writer is the one who gives the most accurate eye-witness account of the stuff he saw in his head.
Remember, you don’t make the story. It’s already there. You just go and find the one that is meant for you. And you tell it so damn good that you amaze even yourself.
And then you let Mr Editor in. Offer him coffee and cheesecake, whatever it takes to get him to do the job well. The amazing thing is, when he’s handed the complete story, he does not interfere with your story. He just looks at things like structure, spelling, grammar, etc. But, give him your first sentence and . . . okay, you understand. You’re a goner.
So, fellow NaNo warriors, make a pledge to yourselves. November is Editor-free month. Make that the numero uno rule as you prepare for the month of madness. You can always edit in December.
Your turn. Does Mr Editor stifle your writing? How many great ideas has he smothered?
Most importantly, do you have a gun?