Writing is a dance between water and fire.
It is expression and communication. It is yang and yin. It is solitary and sociable. It is both writing and re-writing. It is frightening and exhilarating all at once.
How does any writer control this contradictory dichotomy?
Write For Yourself
Anne Lamott said it perfectly in her book Bird by Bird. I’m paraphrasing her here, but no writer ever wakes up and cranks out a perfectly-worded, complete novel in one sitting. More likely than not, the rough draft of whatever you do will be full of mistakes and not be perfect.
And that’s okay. Because at this point, you’re writing for yourself. There is no one looking over your shoulder, telling you shouldn’t use a semi-colon there here and period over there. There is no one, but you. Take liberty in that fact, and write a draft only you would write. If you’re not prone to cursing in public, but your character curses, make them curse. If you want to see an lien roast a human being alive and eat them, do it. Be bold. Be scary. Be daring.
If you need permission from somebody to do that, well… I give you permission. Anne Lamott gives you permission. Fire up the grill, grab your skillet, and get to work!
Okay, okay. I get it. Easier said than done.
Which is why what I’m about to say next is extremely important.
Keep Moving While Pocketing Ideas
As I’m working on my novel right now, I’m discovering that my fiery side and my watery, editorial side are constantly battling each other. Every time I dive into a new chapter or start writing, I’m learning new things about my characters. And with every new thing I’m learning about my characters, I have the urge to re-write scenes that came before it to reflect this change.
I let myself re-write a few scenes only once. But ever since then, I have kept writing and not looked back.
How do I do this?
Making a note of it.
I use a writing program called “Scrivener,” which TheGumiho77 talks about in their post right here, so I won’t go into touch much detail. I plan on posting about it myself, since there are some differences between the Mac and Windows versions, and I happen to use the Windows version.
But the one thing that is the same for both is that it allows for far better note-taking than Microsoft Word. Essentially, every document you have contains a virtual index card that you can write on. Here’s a screenshot view. You’ll also be getting a small sneak peek at the novel. Luck you!
Alright, so you see that box in the corner with the red, orange, and yellow boxes around it? That’s the “Synopsis” card. The middle white pane with the text is where I’m doing my main writing. Right now, it’s on chapter 5, and my protagonist is meeting her newest tutor. But there are still some thing that even I don’t know about this dude she’s talking to. Why does he ask her to get feathers? Why pick Karetu to be his new student? What about one of the other characters that I included in a previous scene to ramp up the conflict? Should the conflict be ramped up later? Should it be taken out?
Those kinds of thoughts that would be best answered with revision get put on the index card. And I keep writing.
I admit there’s a lot more stopping and starting in the writing process, but it’s great to know that if I get any straight though as I’m writing, I can worry about it later and concentrate on just moving the story forward. I’m writing for myself, but I am acknowledging potential snags that might confuse a reader later.
But yes, dear writer. If you happen to get these nagging thoughts that would best be answered in revision, keep sticky notes nearby, or a notebook full of the questions pertaining to chapters, certain scenes, and certain characters so you know what you’re on the lookout for during revision.
Because revision is where you are truly rewriting for the reader.
Rewrite for the Reader
So you’ve done it. You’ve put out that rough draft. Your protagonist has defeated the kraken, and rescued his/her/their princess. Now what?
Now you have to make sure it makes sense to somebody else.
As said before, writing is both water and fire. It is very much like the craft of forging swords. You need the raw metal, the mallets, and the heat to shape the blade that will aid you on your quest to writing success.
But for it to really true aid you, you need to let it cool off. You need to quench the blade of its thirst so that the blade is hardened and ready for even more duty. (Don’t believe me? The term is literally called quenching.) Then you need to sharpen it. You need to polish it.
Readers do not want to look at a molten piece of metal. They want to look at a polished piece of art.
- Write as hot and molten as you can, and keep yourself in mind.
- Keep notes if you’re editorial side is bothering you, but don’t stop working.
- Revise with your reader in mind.
If you try to write for the reader when you try to write for yourself, you’ll be flooded with tons of confusing voices and be less likely to finish. Stick with one voice and one mode of thinking at a time.
And yes. There will be exceptions. Most of the blog posts I write in one draft, but I still have to check for punctuation and pause if I get another idea for a topic.
But in general…
Fire, then water. Sun, then moon.
Yang and yin.
An eternal, writerly dance.