“Write the first draft without editing.” That’s the most shared advice (in my experience) professional authors give to new authors. But is it really the best advice a new author should adhere to?
In the last blog post I got the smackdown (literally) from my Inner Cave Girl about listening to my gut and how I muck up scenes when I edit as I write. (If you missed it, click here to be amazed and read in on my crazy.) (Oh and if you don’t know what I mean when I say Inner Cave Girl, ancient brain, or modern “thinking” brain, then go check out my post on “Embracing Your Gut Instincts” here.)
Housekeeping done, it’s time to move on and answer a question that has been nagging the living daylights out of me for a long, LONG time.
Who really writes the story?
The Inner Editor or the Inner Writer?
Most professional authors I know say it’s the inner writer who does the heavy lifting and is in charge when it comes to fast drafting a manuscript.
But I’m not 100% convinced that’s the case.
(At least, not for me.)
And now I’ll tell you why.
In my case–or rather, according to my process–I can’t write IF I don’t know (or have a general idea of) what I need to write.
No, that’s not quite right.
Yes, I can write–as in I have the ability to write by slinging words together then slapping them on the page–but I don’t always have the ability (or presence of mind) to write a story that connects or can build to a targeted outcome without a roadmap to get there.
So yeah, I–like most folks who can type, scribble, or talk to dictate–can start a story, but can I finish it the way it’s meant or needs to be finished… without getting derailed at least once?
Yes, if it’s less than 5,000-10,000 words long.
No, if it’s longer than 10,000 words.
(Which explains why there are so many beginnings to great stories that went nowhere on my hard drive, but that’s another story–I think–for another post.)
So why is it that I can brain dump (straight out of my bag of crazy) short works less than 10,000 words, but struggle on longer ones?
Because my modern “thinking” brain can only hold so much data.
And since we live in a world that floods us–daily–with soooooo much data… it’s easy–for me–to get lost on the story’s logical journey.
What does it look like when I get lost?
Specifically, it looks like a great scene that has no bearing whatsoever on the overall plot of a story.
- The scene may look like a completely new story with characters who have the same name as the one I’ve told myself I’m working on. Or…
- It may look like random crap I’ve slapped on the page just to get word count. (can we say: NaNoWriMo?)
In both cases and from my experience, the scene I’ve just written (that’s supposed to be a pivotal point in the middle of the book) looks great–like someone with skill and mastery over the English language has crafted a grammatically correct scene that possesses a natural scene (not story, but scene) arc to it.
(You know about the scene arc flow, right? Action scenes have a goal, conflict, disaster. Reaction scenes have a reaction, dilemma, decision.)
Yeah, so anyway, the scenes I write do have a flow to them, but they don’t… how do I put it?
- Apply to the story I’m writing.
- Or work for the characters I’ve created.
- Or mesh with the backstory.
- Or mesh with the world.
- Or the action planned for later in the story.
- And so on and so on goes the list of complaints I have for these crappy scenes. But at the end of the day, it’s all the same.
The scenes are crap and need to get tossed.
I don’t think I’ve ever met an author who enjoys deleting word count. Adding word count to a manuscript, yes. But deleting words (more like whole chunks) then starting over again…?
I have yet to meet anyone who LOVES doing that.
Or who can do it without cringing–even if it’s cringing on the inside, not on the outside.
Nor have I ever worked for a company (who’s asked me to develop a process for them) then been told…
Hey, no worries about having to use a shitload of time and resources to get something done. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just scrap it and start all over again. After all, it’s “just” money. No biggie.
No biggie? Are you kidding me?
Time is money and resources are money and every freaking word a writer slaps onto the page is… money.
So why in the world would other professional authors give advice that essentially tells newbies to go ahead and waste their time and resources to just get some word count slapped on the page knowing–KNOWING–that chunks of the words would be gutted and tossed?
- Because writing is an art and art can be hit or miss?
- Because practice makes perfect and most newbie authors haven’t studied the craft of story telling enough to be able to build a story by brain dumping it on the first go?
- Or… see me breaking out my conspiracy theorist… is it because professional authors don’t want the competition of newbie authors breaking into their market? And skimming off their royalties?
Don’t have a clue which it is–nor do I care to waste precious brain time thinking about which it is, because I’ve got bigger and better things to do. Like figure out how to develop a writing process that does NOT waste words and my most precious resource (time to write).
Which brings me to something I’ve been pondering for a good while now…
Why is it that so many authors–new and not so new to the business–complain of the same thing… battling their inner editor so they can sink down into the story (to get into “The Zone”) and write the story they THINK needs to get written.
The way the THINK it needs to get written.
But not the way they FEEL it needs to get written?
Damned if I know, but this gives me the perfect opportunity to derail for a minute to share with you my belief about art.
Art is a soul thing.
Great art–don’t care what kind it is… picture, sculpture, play, story… the form doesn’t matter because… great art starts in the soul of the creator and is communicated through its medium to the soul of the observer.
Great art has an impact. It can move a person’s emotions. It connects us all–through our emotions. Through our ancient brains which live and breathe in a kinesthetic, emotion and motion oriented, world.
That impacts us on a gut level and when it does THAT…
It leaves a mark.
Case and point–Pride & Prejudice; A Tale of Two Cities; Star Wars; DaVinci’s Mona Lisa; Michelangelo’s Statue of David; The Sistine Chapel; The Bible.
Why do you remember those things?
- Because someone told you about them?
- Or you learned about them in school?
- Or how about… because they are…
GREAT ART that impacts us on a “FEELING” SOUL LEVEL and tells a STORY.
Having seen those great works of art–do you think any of them magically emerged into the world as they are now on the first go?
They were started… maybe sketched out…. maybe discussed… maybe hammered and chiseled into something resembling a model… then sanded and refined into something better… then polished into something… close to beautiful… then polished some more until–voila! Manifique!
Great art is achieved. Then shared. With us mere mortals.
So yes, I am a firm believer that great art–in whatever form or medium it needs to be expressed–is a divine thing. A soul divine thing.
Now for the part where my logical mind tosses in a golden monkey wrench.
The Mona Lisa, Statue of David, and the Sistine Chapel artwork–all three of those are snapshots in time. Each of those works represent a single moment, frozen in time, on the cusp of real life–but still… a single moment.
Unlike Pride & Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities--which are more than a single moment. They are movies for the mind. A complete tale, or hero’s journey, that take the reader on an epic adventure that can go… anywhere and everywhere.
Which naturally brings up another question…
Which is more difficult to create:
A single snapshot in time or a hero’s journey using thousands of words?
My answer? The hero’s journey using thousands of words.
Please don’t get me wrong. I 100% respect the skill and craftsmanship it took to make those great pieces of art. They do capture my imagination and take me on a journey.
But it’s not the same kind of journey or feeling I get when I read Pride & Prejudice (P&P).
See, in P&P I get invested. Elizabeth Bennett is a heroine that I can connect with. I get emotionally invested in her health and happiness. I want to laugh and cry and stomp my foot when she does. Yes, she may be a Regency heroine, but she’s a timeless heroine–who’s smart, witty, weighed down with family who… don’t always do her any favors. And still she dreams and hopes and believes. In her morals, values, and herself. She’s strong–on the inside–which makes her a character who really resonates with me.
And so I remember her. And her story. Her journey. I remember how she put Darcy in his place when he proposed and how I felt when she got the news of Lydia’s disappearance.
It impacted me. Deeply. Made me care how things turned out for her as she continued to march onward to the conclusion of her romantic adventure.
This impact left me with not merely one snapshot of her heroic journey, but hundreds of snapshots.
Which is why I, personally, think that writing a well crafted heroic journey–a fiction novel–that’s shared in the written medium (as a book) is one of THE most difficult forms of art to master.
Because fiction doesn’t imitate life–IT IS LIFE (albeit, life in a fictitious, imaginary world).
And creating life (as any woman who has ever had a baby grow in her belly will tell you) is hard work. Exhausting, even. (Not to mention the pain at the end, but that’s a totally different post for a different day)
Again–that’s all my perspective.
The same perspective that has me looking at the roles of
Inner Writer and Inner Editor
through a different lens.
A lens that makes me question the WHY things happen.
Like why does our inner editor pop up when we’re writing a scene?
For example, I wrote a book in 2016. A complete novel. It came in over 90,000 words. Like all the novels I’ve ever completed, I started out by panting my way into the first 5,000 words. That was what i needed to give me a flavor for who the hero and heroine were and what their story was about.
In this case–it was a reunion story. Do’t need to know that, but now you do so there you go.
After I hit the 5K mark, I then started thinking… hmmmm, what comes next?
So I jotted down some notes. Scribbled some scenes. Did all of this with complete abandon. Until I got to the half way mark in the story.
Then I sat down to transcribe what i’d scribbled and… the most (annoying) peculiar thing happened.
My Inner Editor said it was wrong. That what I’d transcribed was wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. That stuff I transcribed was gold–for a different story, but not the one I was writing. And certainly not for the characters I had described for this book.
In the end, my Inner Editor was right. And about 20,000 words had to be tossed.
Same thing happened when I started working on the back half of the book. Except this time, when the Inner Editor spoke up and announced what I’d written was crap… it had an emotional impact on my self confidence.
Suddenly I couldn’t do anything right with this book. I couldn’t even say what I meant and describe the scene the way I meant to describe it.
Because I got lost. Hung up on the I’m wrong then sucked into a never ending loop of “why bother when I can’t do anything right?”
Luckily I was able to snap out of that funk. Long enough to finish the book. But then I slipped right into the same funk when I started working on the next book… again, the funk showed up after the 5K word mark. Again it was the Inner Editor telling me I was doing it wrong and saying it wrong.
But this time I buckled and didn’t finish the book. (Granted, there were other things in my life going on at the same time, so it wasn’t like I was quitting–more like I took a breather so I wouldn’t feel like crap all the time… just most of the time.)
So why did it happen?
Why did I stumble when confronted with an Inner Editor telling me I’d written crap that needed to get scrapped?
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I honestly believe I stumbled because I started thinking and stopped feeling.
That may not sound too bad. I mean, it’s logical, right?
Sure–on the surface–but when I dig deeper into my crazy to see why I honestly believe this… that’s when I get something like this:
- My Inner Writer is a Typist. She doesn’t think. She’s a machine that just types what she’s been told to type. Who tells her what to type?
- My Inner Editor who translates what the story means to me into words then dictates them to the Inner Writer.
- My Inner Cave Girl is the story teller.
Now to walk you through my take on it…
My Inner Cave Girl absorbs some data. It sparks an idea that forms a pattern. This pattern is a romantic hero’s journey. Few seconds later, the Inner Cave Girl has a complete pattern understood and read to be transferred on to…
My Inner Editor. She translates the Inner Cave Girl’s mimed explanation into the medium the story is shared–words, voice, pictures, sounds, smells… you name it and she builds this. In my subconscious mind. Usually happens when I’m asleep. Which is great, because I love sleep and now I get to consider sleeping a full 8 as vital working time. Then, once the story is fully fleshed out and understood in the subconscious Inner Editor’s realm… it’s transferred on to…
My Inner Writer. She’s a typist. Plain and simple. Her job is not to think. It’s to pour out the info from the Inner Editor as quickly as possible onto the written page. Again, she is not to think about what she writes or types. She is supposed to stick to the program and do what she’s told.
Yes, absolutely there may be moments when the wrong word is chosen, then typed. But that’s when the Inner Editor pipes up to say–“wrong, try again”. It’s not “wrong, you’re an idiot”, but “wrong… go back and do it over again, but this time, listen and get it right”.
I like this model. It works for me and keeps things the way I like to understand them–simple.
Now to tackle the comment I made near the start of this post about struggling to write novels when what I have to write is greater than 5,000-10,000 words long.
Actually, dealing with that one is simple, too. At least, it now appears to be to me. Because I have a daily goal.
To write a daily word count that’s about 5,000 words long.
(Something I am apparently trying to do with every blog post I’m writing lately–but whatever. it’s good practice.)
If I know I can only write about 5,000-10,000 words before I start to derail, then that suggests what?
That 5,000-10,000 words is the maximum amount of words my Inner Writer can process at any given sitting or writing session.
So how do I stop the derail from happening?
By creating a todo list. I don’t want to call it an outline. More like a road map that means something to me and will trigger my mind to see what each scene is about. Th road map/list may have a few details–loose ones that are specific enough to describe an entire scene.
Example–you know that scene in Star Wars with the trash compactor? Good. Now go write it. In its entirety. With a complete description and dialogue.
In that example, my notes may only say… Trash Compactor.
In my world, the Trash Compactor scene is only one scene. So I already know the pattern that’ll happen for it (Action-Reaction).
And since my Inner Cave Girl is a master at understanding patterns and has totally learned this pattern by reading great works of fiction and studying the craft of writing… I can trust her to mime out an Action-Reaction scene that my Inner Editor can dictate to my Inner Writer–RIGHT?
That’s right–I said TRUST.
Trust your Process.
Trust your Instincts.
Trust yourself to tell the story the way it needs to be told.
Sounds simple enough. But like most skills… it takes time and energy to do this. And a solid pattern to be understood that you can trust is right… which is why I’m now going to end this (probably very dull blog post) and move on to the series I really need to finish that’s all about understanding…