Learning new things all the time is sort of exciting. Learning them when you’re almost fifty years old isn’t as exciting. It makes me feel stupid.
Today I’ve learned my text editors of choice (Sublime Text and Notepad++) both have built-in spell checkers, which I haven’t used. I figured, y’know…I’d have to know how to spell. Sublime Text is really becoming a favorite for plain text sort of things, but I still find Notepad++ a tiny bit better for editing code. (I use my IDE for most stuff anyway, but occasionally, the lighter, faster text editor is nice.)
I also learned that backing up and taking a run at fiction can be a good thing.
I spoke of this yesterday. I haven’t tried any of the things I’m learning from the “Writing Into The Dark” blog series by Dean Wesley Smith, but I feel like these are yet more tools I can toss in the writer’s tool kit I’ve been developing for the last several years.
“Backing up and taking a run at” means, when a writer sits down to start writing, unless it’s the first words of the story, it’s a common practice to back up 500-700 words in the story, do some clean up and editing, make adjustments to what’s been written, and then push forward another 500 words or more. Then back up about 700-1000 words and repeat the process.
DWS calls this “cycling.” This technique can be used to get “unstuck” from points where the writer is bogged down as well. The analogy he used yesterday was digging a tunnel – dig for a while, then clean out the tunnel, come back, smooth and shape the existing tunnel, then continue digging. Repeat until daylight.
Today, he used the analogy of approaching hills. Small hills need a little momentum built to climb, so backing up a little and running at the hill gives the momentum needed to crest it. Larger hills mean larger approaches, so backing up farther and taking a longer run crests those hills.
But cycling will always provide a chance to create the ONLY draft. In this process of creation, there are few “rules” (and I use the word for lack of a better one), but the first one is, there is NO rewriting allowed. This will be the only draft.
So cleaning up what you’ve already written, inserting what’s missing, removing excess or unnecessary parts, isn’t the same as rewriting. For the purposes of the technique, “rewriting” means finishing the manuscript flawed, with the intent of going back and rewriting it in a subsequent draft.
Many (most?) writers never get through that second draft because they’re either tired of the story, or are daunted by the monumental task of writing through a story they’ve finished already, or they just get bored doing the same thing repeatedly. (I know what that last one’s like.)
So, there’s a lot to be said about telling yourself from the start, this is the only shot you have. Not allowing sloppiness or laziness to enter into the creation keeps the critical voice at bay, and allows the creative voice the ability to identify and eliminate mistakes when they’re recognized.
Some final editing will always, always, always be necessary. There will be words removed, words added, scenes or chapters cut, things like that. Editing for content will have to happen, even with a recursive method which cleans up as much prose and errors as can be found. A final front-to-back read through at reader speed might identify other problems which have to be fixed, but some of that will work itself right out of the equation with the recursion.
Interesting stuff. Coupled with the idea of writing the next sentence, even if it’s not the next one in the story’s timeline (which is how the reader will experience the story), it becomes an intriguing idea. I can’t tell if I like the messiness of it, or if I’ll get discombobulated trying it.
One thing I can say for sure is, if this makes writing fun and interesting again, or if it helps me lift out of the doldrums I’m in, I’m all for it. I guess the short version is, at this point, it can’t hurt to try it.
And, in fact, one of the most refreshing things I saw in the post I read today came in the comments. Someone pointed out the wild, amazing success some writers have being incredible outliners, going to multi-thousand word outlines in the process, then writing that book and having it become a best seller. But the answer simply is, there isn’t a right way or wrong way. What works for one person, may not work for everyone. And it may or may not work for me, or you.
But I’m ready to try anything – anything! – and see what does work. It’s worth testing to me. And it costs nothing – there’s no new software, no new tools to master. Just a shift in how I think about writing, and going from a linear thinker to a non-linear writer.
I’ll certainly let the entire blog series play out and read it – more than once, probably – before I pass judgment on the method. But I’ve been more than happy to do this with short stories, and honestly, the length of work has nothing to do with whether it works or not. If I can do it with a short piece, perhaps – not definitely, but perhaps – I can do it with a longer one too.
And in today’s brave, new world of self-publishing and ebooks, length of work is irrelevant. Write until the story’s finished. Edit until it’s presentable to the world. Make it attractive with a cover. Offer it at a reasonable price for the work (or free, if you’re willing). And then get another one done.
I’ve not written anything for a long, long time. Nothing of worth at any rate. So maybe a little spark of derring-do from writing without a net will be good for me.
I guess there’s no reason NOT to start this process, testing the waters. Not knowing the rest of it is a bit of a deterrent, but DWS is publishing a new chapter every day on his blog, and anticipated about 12 chapters at the outset. Today’s entry was chapter 8, so we’re closing in on it.
PS – Got the image here.