Learn Your Craft, But Apply It In Moderation

About ten years ago, I announced to some friends that I wanted to do a writing course.  One person responded ‘but you can’t learn how to write – you either can or you can’t’.

WRONG!  All writers learn their craft, even if they don’t do formal study.  They learn it by reading books about writing, talking to other writers, going to their local writing centre or doing short courses.  Some learn it solely by reading, but they’re very clever people who can analyse a book’s structure and elements while they’re reading it.  Me, I chose a more formal route, because I needed class time and assignment deadlines to instill a writing discipline.

That’s not to say we should apply everything we learn as we write.  While I read about writing all the time, I have to ‘forget’ this while I’m doing my own crafting my first draft.  If I consciously try to write well, it jams me up and I stall.  For example, the other day I noticed I was baulking every time I wanted to write an adverb (-ly word) and I was stopping in my tracks while I was searching for another way of saying what I was trying to say.  These stoppages break my flow of thought and often result in my getting up from my desk.  This is dangerous, as it can lead to some serious procrastination.

So while I encourage all writers to learn their craft, there’s a time and place for everything.  The first draft is not the place for craft.  Nor is the second, if you have to do major revision and restructuring.  Leave it to the third draft, to be done right before you send it off to your critical reader.

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Slashing with the Two Edged Sword

After much thought and plotting, I think that I’ll be able to merge my newly developed storyline with the already existing storyline by slashing some largely unimportant chapters.  I like this solution, as it is focused and driven and will result in a much stronger book.  I was concerned about the middle of my book anyway, because it seemed to move all over the place in a choppy manner without pulling things together. 

So it just goes to show – never despair, things will all fall into place in the end anyway.  Sometimes.

The Difference Between Revising and Rewriting

OK, not sure how this will pan out, but here goes. 

The difference between revising and rewriting is the same as the difference between dreaming and doing.  In other words, revising is where you think about how your first draft fits with what you saw/felt/heard in your head.   You make notes to yourself on where your draft leaves you flat, or your characters aren’t sounding right, or where you see a redirection is needed.  It involves big plans and aiming high.

Rewriting is putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.  It’s when you have to sit down and wrestle with your characters and plot until hopefully you bring things together better than they were before.   It’s getting down and dirty in the detail, up to your elbows in scenes and sentences.  You come up for air, blinking and gasping, and then plunge back in again.

What I don’t know yet, is how much of the revising makes it into the rewriting.  Stay tuned!

The Difference Between Revising and Editing

I had a bit of a light bulb go off today.  I realised that while I had been thinking that revising and editing are the same thing, this is not the case!  They are two separate steps in the writing process.

Revising is when you’ve finished the draft and you’re reading through it for the feel of the story, which might involve dealing with the structure, logic or flow.  You’re testing to see if the characters are strongly enough developed for the storyline you’ve chosen, if the story is grounded enough in setting to feel real and if the plot accelarates at the right pace.  These are all big picture things, like playing with the large shapes of a painting making sure you’re getting the composition right.  You’re looking at the big blobs to see if they balance each other and make you feel easy.  It’s not about detail.

Editing is where you’ve done the big picture work, you feel comfortable the story is balanced right and you’re looking at the finer detail of language and sentence structure, as well as picking up those stray typos we all miss.  This is where you’re getting down to the nitty gritty of ‘is that the right word there?’ or ‘would that character really say that?’, and it can only really be done when the revising has finished.

Now that I’ve figured it out, it seems so obvious!

2nd Draft Update

I’m finding a lot of things to fix up in this second draft, I must say.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because it makes me feel like I know my craft.  On the other hand, it’s daunting, because there’s so much to fix I think I might need an extra draft to make the writing beautiful.  That’s what I’m aiming for – not just good writing, but really gut-wrenching make-you-howl-when-something-bad-happens-to-the-protagonist writing. 

Things that I’ve found to fix up so far include:

  • characters dropping in or out
  • point of view imbalances
  • scenes not going anywhere obviously meaningful for the plot
  • events dropped in without any background or transition
  • reordering of chapters, events or scenes

These are all major re-writing areas, not just a nice bit of copy editing.  It looks like the second draft will be closer to a new novel than a fixed up one.