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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Just Write

I was visiting with an acquaintance of mine -- presently a banker, but unbeknownst to me, formerly a trade journal editor. He asked me about my new book and how I managed to complete it. He had always wanted to write a novel, he said. In fact, he had started to write one several times, but never managed to complete the task. What was the secret, he wanted to know.

"Butt in chair," I said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sit down at your computer every day and write. Keep doing this until you reach what seems like the end of your book."

He had heard that advice before. But he had more questions.

Did I prepare a chapter outline before I started to write? Did I write character studies for my main characters before they appeared in the book? Did I know my character arcs and complete plot line from the outset.

For me, the answer to all of these questions was "No." Sure, I had general ideas along those lines. But I never formalized them. My brain just doesn't work that way.

I believe all of the above writing tools are very helpful -- and perhaps even necessary -- for some writers. I applaud those who have developed these valuable writing tools to a science. It's just not an approach my brain is willing to embrace.

"I got to know my characters better as the story progressed," I said. "They began their existence as composites of people I have encountered, speaking in rhythms that were familiar to me, displaying characteristics akin to those of people I had met. But as they interacted, the characters took on lives of their own. As I wrote, I found my self asking 'What would ______ say in this situation?' And I followed my character's lead."

I told him that my approach would always end up with a manuscript requiring substantial revisions. (In the case of my first manuscript, I actually threw out the first ten chapters.) But then, all first drafts require substantial revision, don't they?

He found my approach interesting and freeing. He had never gotten started with the book he "had always wanted to write," because he had gotten bogged down in the preparation. He said his mind tended to work like mine -- operating more off-the-cuff, so to speak.

I repeated to him the prevailing wisdom that to write a book, one needs to begin writing, set daily goals for words written (whether 500 or 5,000), and then keep writing through bad writing days and good ones. The bad stuff can be fixed later.

After all, there is no great writing . . . only great re-writing! Was that Oscar Wilde? Sounds like him.

One other thing I told my banker friend about my writing experience -- every time I edit my books they get longer. I know this is backwards editing. Most people write 125,000 words and pare it down to 80,000 or 90,000. I write 60,000 words, then add detail and imagery until I am satisfied.

Since my writing is fairly minimalist, and the action in my early drafts moves too quickly, this approach works for me. I'm not suggesting you emulate my writing technique. I just want to let you know there are different approaches to writing. You should find one that works for you.

So there's my self-pub advice for the day. The one constant --butt in chair. You have an idea. Put it on paper (or computer) and keep on writing. You can't edit something that's never been written. And you can't publish something unless it's been edited. One foot after the other. All the rest of the process is up to your personal preferences and skill set.

Just write!

Thanks for stopping by.

John

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