Monday, June 06, 2005

Learning to write and edit

Practice. Improvement. Sometimes the combination of the two lead to sudden realizations and changes in how you work. Sometimes they lead to small changes and improvements within a way that has already worked well for you. Large changes in how a person approaches a story is not necessarily a sign of improvement in the story writing itself, though.

I have rarely met anyone who can write a perfect first draft, and those who believed they did were often very sadly mistaken. I'm not saying it can't be done, though. There are a few -- very few -- writers blessed with that clarity of vision. Most, however, know that they're not perfect and accept that editing is a wonderful tool for writers and allows them to come closer to their vision.

Editing can be overdone. It can be used as an excuse not to finish material and to submit it. Or it can be used to make something so 'correct' that it blots out the unique aspects of the story.

I know more writers than I know any other 'type' of people, both on-line and off. My world is filled with writers, including my husband who makes a hell of a lot more money at nonfiction writing than I do writing fiction. I communicate with writers every day.

'All writers are different.' It was suggested, recently, that this is an excuse (apparently not to work efficiently), not a statement of fact. But I know writers and they are as diverse a group as anyone could find, and the ways in which they work prove it. There is a reason why there are not assembly lines for writers.

We are -- like most artists -- individuals who seek and find our creativity in our own way. If we all took the same path it might be a lot easier -- but also, I think, the output would be pretty boring. There would be a sameness to it. Even within a single writer's process there is usually changes between different types of stories. Creativity isn't just a thought process, but also an approach to the subject. Everything that a writer does, from music he listens to (if he does) to where he prefers to write affects the material. How we envision the story and how we write it also unique and adds to the material.

How we work reflects our creative process, and makes it apparent that not all artists create in the same way.

There is no one way. There is no one answer on how to get published.

I have been told that this belief is arrogance. It is the basis on which FM works, however, and has for nearly ten years. 'This has worked for me and it might help you' might as well be our motto, along with 'There is no one way.'

If someone tries to tell you, the writer, that you have to approach your work in a certain way, have to write 'just so' or any other 'my way or not at all' ideas, laugh at them. Really. They have no idea what they're talking about. Chances are they really don't even mean what they're saying, or they have never worked with other authors at all. Try out their method if it seems to make any sense. Trying new ways to work can bring some interesting and enlightening insights into how your mind reacts. It doesn't matter if the person is published or not.

Just remember two things:

Not everyone can work in the same way and if something doesn't work for you, it doesn't matter who presented it -- published author or not.

And don't lie to yourself about what you're doing. Don't suddenly pretend that you are writing near perfect first drafts just because it will be less work for you. If the story is worth writing, than it is worth making certain it's right. That will often include editing. That's all right. Editing is part of the writer's tool kit, and throwing it aside is not a good answer.

When you reach perfection by all means, write one draft and send it off. You might be right.

The rest of us will believe that we're not perfect and try to improve our work instead.


Darwin said...

I put some thought into what you said here. While I agree with your viewpoint, I did come up with two hurdles of writing that every author faces as "musts" in order to be published:

1) You must finish the story.
2) You must submit the story.

Everything else is human-born chaos. ;-)



Holly said...

Nice essay. Sad the "My way or no way at all" crowd will never shut up. Funny thing is, they'll never notice that they don't agree with each other, either, and that if any one of them were right, ALL the rest of them would be wrong.

Zette said...

Oh yes, very much on the finish and submit. But I've found it difficult enough to get people to start the material sometimes, too. And editing seems to be just about the most feared aspect of writing next to submitting.

Zette said...

Hi Holly!

In some cases, it's just this overwhelming idea that they've found a new best way, without realizing that most of us have tried it. People who spend any time at FM usually get over that feeling very quickly. (grin)