So it’s been almost two months since my last chapter was published…
I’ve been writing a lot, but it takes a long time to feel right. Lots of writing and editing and writing and editing and then deleting what I’ve written until piece by piece it doesn’t seem so bad. And then time just seems to…get away from me.
It doesn’t help that I work full-time and play in two bands and am currently mid-way through a 20+show tour. Alas, but excuses, but excuses!
As an update I’m currently sitting at around 8,000 words for Chapter 12 (which will inevitably be edited down on draft 2) and I’ve still got a little more to write before it’s ending where it should.
But the main reason for this blog post is to jot down a realisation.
If anyone follows writing blogs or podcasts or listens to / watches interviews with authors, one thing that comes up often is: “Your first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
I thought I knew what this meant.
But I realise now that I didn’t. It is not some conscious action of telling yourself your own story, or some kind of settling on the quality of your work so you can just get through the draft. It is more subconscious than that.
A way to explain this would be: It has been proven psychologically most of us remember something better once we have written it down. Something in our brains ticks or clicks and the act of writing commits it to a deeper, longer part of our memory.
When applying this to writing – especially creative writing – we write best when we know the material so well it’s like we’ve lived it. We streamline the detail and make things very evocative and real.
But there’s a process it seems. We need to explore what we want to write, how we want to write it, what things feel like, look like, smell like, where plot points may go or not. We need to write all of that detail and character and explore narrative dead ends – not for the reader, but to exercise that process of knowing our own story to the extent it is almost subconscious, and we cannot do that until we have written it down.
The first draft isn’t “crap” because we are word vomiting onto the page without regard for quality. Most of us think that first draft is just the fucking bomb. But a common problem – me included – is that the first draft is you exploring the story thinking that every part of it needs to be read.
Telling yourself the story.
You need to describe how the character feels – every nanosecond of their thought. You need to unnecessarily describe the room – every feature and how every feature feels. You need to overly describe the characters appearance and what they seem like.
Because before you’ve written it down, you don’t really know.
The truth is: you write this not because it needs to be read, but because it needs to be written.
Progressing your own writing should be about writing everything you need to write to know what you’ve written intuitively, and then editing it later for the reader.
More often than not, the reader doesn’t need to know backstory or the contents of every room. They just need the bare bones of what is essential to the narrative for the enjoyment of the story, so they can do half of the work and create the world themselves. (Of course add to this your own flourishes and subtext to make it vivid and yours.)
So I guess the distillation of what I’ve realised is that to write “good words,” you need to follow the process of writing everything because it needs to be written, then editing for the reader, so that only what is important to the plot and feel of your writing (your voice) is left.
It’s a frustrating process at times, I know. But I’m finding more and more that I don’t know what I want to write until I’ve written everything I don’t want to read. If that makes sense. Which makes writing a novel a very long process!
Anyhow. Now back to finishing Chapter 12…