Saturday, December 11, 2010

Trust The Process; or, Sneaky Inner Editor Is Sneaky

Writing this week has been a bit of a struggle, and I think I've figured out why.

Now that the pressure of NaNoWriMo is off, I've slowed my pace a little, trying to avoid things like the 5,000 word info-dump airship description. I'm trying to be more analytical up front and figure out which scenes are really needed and which ones are not. I'm trying to be more careful in my word choices, in making sure to show not tell, in writing believable dialogue.

In other words, my Inner Editor has crept out of her box and taken over. And that spells disaster.

Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, if you're writing better stuff up front, that means less editing on the back end, right?

And that would be true...except that, in my case, the presence of Inner Editor during the writing phase usually stifles the story to such an extent that there might not ever be a back end, because I'll never get it finished. So that doesn't really help any, either.

Still, my first instinct is to try not to produce another 275,000 word behemoth. Those are just difficult to deal with. Especially when cutting them into two more reasonably-sized pieces simply doesn't work.

But then, on the same day, I found two articles that made me re-think that decision.

The first was an article in the Irish Times, where the author was privileged to sit in on a writing workshop with author Terry Pratchett. You really should go and read the whole thing, but I'll post the bit that got my attention here.

At the end of the workshop, Mr. Pratchett listed his three secrets of writing the perfect book. The third one was the one that caught my attention:

“First draft: let it run. Turn all the knobs up to 11. Second draft: hell. Cut it down and cut it into shape. Third draft: comb its nose and blow its hair. I usually find that most of the book will have handed itself to me on that first draft. I don’t know how. It has to do with my subconscious – the subconscious of someone who’s been doing it for a long time."

It sounds like good advice. Let it run, and turn all the knobs up to 11. Cutting into shape can happen later.

And then I found Delia Sherman's blog entry on "How To Survive A First Draft". It's another good read, and you should go and do just that. But this was the bit that seemed to be calling out to me:

"3) Bull on through regardless, throwing words at the wall in the hope that some will stick. One member of my writing group, when writing her first draft, writes scenes that seem to happen in Real Time, in which the characters sit around cooking dinner or mending harness while talking about the weather or the crops or their love lives for PAGES AND PAGES, which is fun for us to read, but not ultimately useful to the plot or the structure of the novel...She doesn't rewrite them until she's finished the draft, at which point they either disappear or get so completely rewritten that maybe only the setting and one line of dialogue survive from the original. She finds writing them immensely useful, though, however seemingly inefficient, for getting to know characters, for creating an atmosphere or details of her world."

Wow. Yes, that's actually what I seem to do, too. I write about things in nauseating detail, things I know aren't needed for the final draft. But writing scenes and details like these are what helps me to find the heart of the story. And therefore, practical or not, I need to just tell Inner Editor to sit down, shut up, and wait her turn.

(By the way, when you go read that blog entry, don't forget to scroll down and read the comments, because there is wisdom to be found there as well. Like this little gem from Ellen Kushner: "...we sometimes criticize books that are *too* tightly-written as being "only the Good Parts version" . . . . My friends, do not fear Dialogue! and Description! and Mood and Scene-Setting and.....!")

So what it all comes down to is that I need to keep reminding myself to Trust The Process. Write the draft now, edit it later. Give the characters room to breathe, and they will help me find the missing heart to the story. Editing can -- and will -- come later.

Do other people have trouble trusting the process? Is it possible to make changes to the process and still have it work?