Lots of people think writing is easy, or should be easy.
If you have an imagination, you can tell a story – right?
But that’s like saying if you can imagine a house, you should be able to build one. Surely there’s nothing too involved there? Dig a foundation, lay down some bricks, build four walls, throw a roof on top – what could possibly go wrong?
It annoys me (I’m easily annoyed) that people think that writing is easy, like writers can sit at the computer and hammer out 9,000 words in a single sitting. No problem.
Writing is painstaking. Whatever’s in your imagination has to be articulated onto the page. You need to find the right words to build the right sentences. The right sentences need to construct the right paragraphs. The right paragraphs need to evolve into a narrative that makes a cohesive chapter. Each chapter has to contribute to a compelling story. And within all of these constructs – even the smallest ones, like finding the right word – there’s so much that could pojssibly go wrong, e.g. a lack of clarity, overwriting, repetition, etc.
As a writer, you’re always evolving – at least until your mind packs it in. But as you’re evolving, you’re learning. You discover new ways to do things. You also learn where you’ve been doing things wrongly, e.g. you might have an over-reliance on exposition, or have favourite phrases and words that you use (every writer has them – I used to love ‘ominous’).
As you learn, the filter through which you write changes, so you curtail these habits – not all the time. Early drafts should be a spill. The filter can act as a net to catch some stuff, but you should always just aim to get everything you need onto the page, and that doesn’t mean stopping to check every keystroke.
With TFSoLY, I’ve bullet-pointed a number of things that I’ll have to either go back and revise, or write into the story. They’re not small things, either. If they were, I’d do them right now. These are big, BIG things. But, right now, it’s important I get the rest of the story down, so I’ll know how those earlier parts will need to work when I do go back and attend them.
Something I’ve found extraordinarily helpful is what I call my Shit List. This is a list of words or phrases that I overuse.
Once I’ve finished the early draft, I’ll run a FIND & REPLACE, highlighting every use of these words or phrases.
Some examples from my Shit List:
- eyes / gaze / glance / stare / look: an easy habit to fall into, connecting the characters to other characters and/or the environment.
- turn: my characters are always turning – turning to or away from other characters, or to look at things.
- spun: my characters are always spinning – dramatic flourishes and all. How can you not love a dramatic flourish? It’s a reason we should still wear cloaks in today’s society.
- seem: I’m often writing that something seems [fill in whatever comes next].
- just: my Pantera editor, Lucy Bell, picked up I overuse this – I’m unsure why. I think it’s just become ingrained.
There are others, but these are enough as examples.
When I worked as an editor, I found a lot of these common – especially the eye action. Writers love eye action. (And the word ‘suddenly’, which I refuse to use anymore – it’s such a melodramatic way to inject urgency.)
Just Another Week in Suburbia is approximately 80,000 words, and went through about thirty drafts – including some sizeable cutting of things that didn’t work, and writing in new material (including a whole new final act). August Falling is approximately 83,000 words, and went through at least twenty-five drafts – including writing in some new complementary scenes to round-out the story
Now, by drafts, I mean I read them from the first word to the last word (and some scenes and/or chapters repeatedly). That’s a lot of reading and revising. In the case of Just Another Week in Suburbia, that’s reading roughly 2,400,000 words to get those 80,000 words as right as possible (with help from feedbackers, and my wonderful editor Lucy).
People who aren’t writers or editors see only the final product, and don’t realise how much work goes into getting it as good as it can be.
Writing’s not easy.
(This was actually meant to be a post about mental health – well, I guess that can come next week. Sounds ominous, hey?)
Last Week’s Lie: I claimed I’d been bignoting myself. I’d never do that.