Writing is Best When We Get Out of Our Own Way
One of the benefits of attending the same conferences year after year is I get to see which writers are published and which aren’t. Which writers finished the book, and which ones haven’t. It’s staggering how many authors I know who have been working on the same manuscript for two, three, five or even ten years. As NYTBSA Bob Mayer likes to say, “They are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
I confess, I was once guilty of this behavior, too. I would absolutely edit my WIPs to DEATH, and this behavior made it impossible to finish. Thankfully, blogging and writing non-fiction has helped tremendously with my fiction. I have learned to overcome perfectionism and ship.
Just Tell the D@&% Story
I recently finished a novel, but I will confess that, as I wrote, it was sooooo tempting to go back and edit, correct, perfect every sentence. This time? I didn’t. Every time I was tempted to go back, re-plot, adjust the story, revise, I just said to myself, “Kristen, just tell the d@&% story.”
This is why the simple act of knowing what your story problem is and where it will end is VITAL.
My story problem?
A former Dallas socialite is blackballed after her con-man fiance vanishes with a half a billion dollars in stolen money, leaving her as the FBI’s favorite suspect. Homeless and broke, she’s forced to move in with her crazy trailer trash family, where she soon discovers that solving her mother’s fifteen-year-old murder is the only way to uncover a massive criminal network before they kill her and everyone she loves.
This means my mind has a checklist of everything that needs solving regarding plot. Likely, the book will end with 1) solving the murder 2) exposing the criminal network and 3) finding the missing fiance and the stolen money.
Knowing how your character needs to change is also VITAL.
Character-wise, there is also a mental checklist. I know who my protagonist is in the beginning and where she needs to be by the end. This helps tremendously because, as I wrote, my protagonist would say or do certain things and my mind would inject, “Uh uh. She isn’t that evolved yet.” Or “Um, she needs to have grown up a little bit by now.”
Simply knowing those two elements: What is the problem that must be solved by the end? How does my protagonist have to change in order to earn the title “hero”? These two critical pieces can help you get out of your own way. I learned this cool stuff from Bob, by the way, so take his classes if you can or go to his retreat. Will change your life.
Learning to R-TUTE (Yes, you can giggle)
RESIST THE URGE TO EDIT. This can also stand for RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.
I recall, as I was writing my latest book, my hands seemed to take on a life of their own. I would add in an unplanned character or an unforeseen (seemingly meaningless) detail. Not too long ago, I would have backspaced over these moments of serendipity, convinced they were stupid because “they weren’t part of the outline.”
Yet, by the time I reached the end of my novel, I was blown away at how those “unplanned” details and players had coalesced into a multi-layered story I’m unsure I could’ve consciously plotted.
Your subconscious is your best friend. Premature editing can uproot the unconscious seeds of brilliance. Premature editing can kill momentum.
RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN! You DO NOT NEED TO EXPLAIN. Really.
The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians RUINED The Force. Same with your characters. Don’t go “back in time” to tell us why Such-and-Such is a brooding emotional mess. We don’t want to be your protagonist’s shrink, we want to partner with her on an adventure and watch her overcome her flaws in amazing ways.
Do you like hanging out with people who can do nothing but talk about their bad childhood? I don’t. Why would we want to hang out with characters (novels) who drag us to mandatory family therapy? We DON’T.
The Benefits of Writing FAST
We Learn by DOING.
We can read books about playing guitar for years and still have no clue how to play the guitar. The best way to learn how to write full-length novels is to write full-length novels. No one (but you and probably every friend and family member) expects your first book to be perfect. Get over it.
When I first played clarinet, it sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose. Practice made the difference. Practicing FULL songs, from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to finally (four years later) The Marriage of Figaro. But I didn’t play The Marriage of Figaro the first week I picked up my instrument. Same with novels. Keep writing and write to the end.
We Are Professionals
This is one of the reasons I do recommend blogging. We need to write every day. If we want to do this thing for real, then we have to take on the role of a professional. This means showing up a minimum of five days a week. What other job would let us show up when we feel inspired and not fire us? Who can take us seriously if we work when we feel like it?
Writing FAST Helps Keep Us Out of Our Own Way
When we write fast, we don’t have time to over-think and edit the life out of our story. Move forward. Press on. Especially new writers. You need the practice. More experienced authors can languish a bit more because they earned it. Eric Clapton can spend hours perfecting a certain riff, but he already passed the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Test.
Keep pressing and practicing. Every book makes you a better writer! Eventually you will be executing the literary equivalent of The Marriage of Figaro and can leave Mary Had a Little Lamb behind :D.
For those who are curious about what The Marriage of Figaro sounds like on clarinet:
What do you think? Are you editing your WIP to death? How to you resist the urge to edit? Does it involve duct tape and twisty ties? Are you struggling with finishing? Or, are you finishing books, but don’t feel you are improving enough?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!