The Only Writing Goal Needed For 2017

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Hundreds of blog posts preaching goal-setting methods for writers have appeared the last weeks. They expound many of the same things, the obvious old-hats we read every year. I wrote such a blog post at the end of 2015.

Many of the suggestions are sensible and will help, but they all miss (or glaze over) the one problem all writers share, beginners and professionals alike.

The problem often ignored is all in your mind.

There lay the subterfuge needling the will to write, punching holes in plot developments, and pushing over cardboard characters like props on a stage.

Writers wear three hats: creator, reader, editor.

The problem writers share is confusing the third hat (editor) with one that should have never been bought, and certainly not worn—the critic hat.

The critic is the voice in your head that tells you writing is a waste of time. The critic is a sneaky bastard, the master of clichés, whispering “that’s been done a hundred times” or “nobody wants to read what you have to say” or “you will never have the necessary skills.” In effect, the critic is a doubter, a wet-blanket, a party-pooper, a liar.

That is not to say you should not be critical of your writing. Taking a critical approach to your prose (word choice, sentence structure, plot, character, etc.) is an essential aspect when wearing the editor’s hat.

The difference between the two? The editor is analytical, the critic is emotional (with a heavy dose of negativity). Adopting the editor and denying the critic is a matter of changing your attitude.

The problem I vow to master in 2017 is Mind-Set. It will take effort, and quite a few reminders throughout the hours and days ahead while hunched over my keyboard.

I have hung on my study wall two reminders that I am a writer: a copy of The Accomplice, my published short story, and the acceptance letter.

Those are my reminders. Yours might be a favorite quote from a published author or simply the words I AM A WRITER above the monitor. Perhaps you are not quite so bold, so you have inspiration on a wall to your side, or maybe on a wall behind which forces you to swivel in your chair when attacked by doubt.

Be bold, and go where you have never gone before—place your inspiration where you can readily view it as a constant reminder of what you wish to become. What, no inspirational reminder? Find something and make it your own.

Repeat after me:

I am a Writer.

Because I am a writer, I write whether convenient or not, regardless of my mood.

My skills will improve if I write; whining about why I can’t write makes me a better whiner. Effort extended will make me better at what I spend my time doing. Better Writer or Better Whiner? I Decide.

Know this: you have the skills to succeed, and any problems or mistakes in your writing can be fixed. Now go write, and become what you are destined to be.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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The Editor Hat: The Smoldering Stage of Writing

Although one hat is not more important than another, the Editor’s hat has a vital role unlike the others: while wearing this hat (which will be done more often than the others), you are the arbitrator, business-like and unyielding when it comes to the specific goal—improving your story and your prose. During the edit phase, you will snuff out the fire of the Creator, dislodge the contentment of the Reader, and thereby shatter dreams, tear down walls and fashion them into something more to the Editor’s narrow liking. James Scott Bell, in his valuable book, Revision and Self-Editing, says to “write hot, edit cool.” The Editor’s Hat thrives on revision—The Smoldering Stage.

I realized the importance and uniqueness of the Editor’s Hat during a previous revision session of The Returning, and also became aware that I had not been very good at that particular function. I decided to take the next week and wear the single hat. Freshly printed copy in front of me, mechanical pencil held like a sword, I attacked the manuscript with a new fervor.

I sliced away adverbs and adjectives that now held no value to my new critical approach, ripped at phraseology I once thought clever or inventive, slashed at weak verbs and lazy parenthetical phrases. Heated with a new resolve to have the manuscript “read” better, faster and more succinct, I spent the next week extracting anything I felt was of no consequence.

My 136,000 word novel pared down to 125,000—11,000 words eliminated, but more than that, I learned an invaluable lesson: Brutality.

(A Side Note: I did not lose those clever little phrases or weak analogies, though, but saved them on a “removed from novel” document. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to give them new life and find a use for them in future writings)

There must be honesty when wearing the Editor’s hat, and one cannot flinch from dismantling a scene to make it better or pulling a particular phrase you have fallen in love with. You cannot afford to be a star-crossed lover, though your Creator will assure you that the clever little things should be kept because they are so good. “Nonsense, if it does not benefit the story, its use is deemed pointless, and worse than that, offensive,” the Editor says.

The Editor’s world is revision, wielding his scepter with the will of any ruler. The editor is the one who has final say, the one who knows better, but like any ruler, has the ability to be fair or cruel. At different times during revision, you may have to be both. While wearing the Editor hat, you will make mistakes, no doubt, but afford yourself that. In time, you will be rewarded by improved skills.

I wear the Editor’s Hat many times during the polishing process. First time through, I look at the general tone and flow of the work, like being in an airplane looking down on the entirety of what I have written, ie., my story world. I check for inconsistencies in the plot, scene order, transitions, and character arc.

Second time through I concentrate on the character arc, because without strong characters that change, the story will be dull. In The Returning, I use multiple viewpoints (4) with most attention given to my protagonist, Syjer, but the other three personages are important ingredients in the overall story-line. James Scott Bell suggests reading the work and marking all character attributes and attitudes (both their own and the way others perceive them) with a colored highlighter. When completed, read only the highlighted areas—each go-through for a different character—to make sure each character experiences change (internal and external) from beginning to end. There is nothing more boring to a reader than a character who is the same at the beginning as at the end.

The third (and subsequent) time through the manuscript is when I deal with phraseology, word usage, description versus narrative, dialogue, syntax, and overall flavor.

How many times should you wear the Editor Hat? There is no clear answer. Some writers claim they only re-read and edit two or three times (I do not believe writers who say they do not rewrite at all), but for me, it can range from five to seven times for a novel, and perhaps more. Each writer is different; the important thing is to stop before the story gets stale, and think on this: if Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Charles Dickens returned today and reread their greatest works, each would most likely want to change parts of their writing. This, I believe, is a natural tendency, but like a great painter, you need to learn when to make the last brush stroke—in time and with experience, you will.

Comments? I always look forward to feedback, whether good or bad, and always wear my Rhino-Skin.

Have fun, and write often.

Rick


 

This Week’s Writing Quote:
“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” James Michener

The Hat Rack: An Overview

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Each hat a writer wears—whether Creator, Reader, or Editor—supplies a unique perspective to a specific task, each with a distinct purpose. Although they complement one another, no two hats can be worn at the same time.

The Creator Hat: The Burning Stage

Once the idea is firmly entrenched (the What If answered, as in my novel, what if a disheartened immortal yearns to be dead), I mull it over and allow my subconscious to work on it beneath the surface. This can take a few days or weeks, depending on the project—it is usually on the shorter side because I want to get on with the writing while the fire of creation burns hot; the reason I call this hat The Burning Stage.

The Creator Hat is worn during first draft, and may be before or after having outlined the characters and plot. The process of writing begins with an idea; the idea will not—and probably should not—be complete during the first draft. Part of the joy that comes with creation is the journey. Although I have a plan where the story will go, I enjoy the process of the story unfolding as I write; it evokes the mystery, and then surprise, when twists and turns appear—the exciting element of creation.

The Reader Hat: The Glow Stage

There should be an extended time-gap between the Creator Phase and the Reader Phase. With shorter works, a week is enough, but with a novel, at least two weeks is recommended, more if possible. Fight the urges to start this phase too soon. You want to let the first draft cool in your mind so when you read the initial time after creation, the writing will be new, and as much as possible, fresh like a reader who first opens the book. The Glow Stage.

The Editor Hat: The Smoldering Stage

The Editor Hat is the most precarious of the three, in that it will demand to be worn when it is the worst possible thing to do. Be wary of the editor, because he has a nasty side (per Jekyll and Hyde), known as the Critic.

At this point, re-read the first draft from beginning to end and make only scattered notes as to flow and desired path. Ponder certain aspects, turning scenes around in your mind, changing viewpoints, altering dialogue to add tension and conflict: The Smoldering Stage.

This first revision is where you begin to flesh out the characters, enhance the settings, and tighten the plot. Scenes or even chapters may be moved (or eliminated entirely), and new ones will take their place. During the first revision, start with an overview; don’t necessarily spend too much time making corrections to sentences and phraseology—that will come later. Instead, focus on the plot and flow of the novel, where chapters start and stop, the natural breaks in the story, and any logistical issues.

Next Week: The Creator Hat—The Burning Stage elaborated.

Go write . . . .

Rick

 


This Week’s Quote:
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”  Robert Frost

Writers’ Three Hats

 

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I “completed” my fantasy novel, The Returning, a few months ago. Having given the manuscript ample time to cool, I am re-reading it, “Again” (in my best Forrest Gump voice). The process with which the novel grew from a seedling to a mature tree with its many branches is, to me, a fascinating process of nurturing like one would raise a child, with ample chastising and correcting thrown in to create the whole.

I have walked this world I created, interacted with the 30+ named characters (especially the 4 viewpoint personages) and listened to their tales of triumph, woe, and regret. Each person is (hopefully) different and varied, arising from unique backgrounds and thrown into a melting pot of love, conflict, and war—lives lost amidst blossoming love, terror tempered with steadfast acts of purpose, triumph and defeat. I know the people intimately, but I wonder, will my readers?

Characters make stories, plot only a device to build a relationship between the persons of the story and the reader.

In between re-reading The Returning, I am also writing the first draft of the second novel in the trilogy. The process—jumping back and forth between the two entirely different aspects—started me thinking of the different roles a writer takes. I call it the Writers’ Three Hats, each worn at separate intervals during the process: the Creator, the Reader, and the Editor (also known as the Critic).

Each hat is worn during a unique phase of building a story, separate though connected to each other like siblings vying for attention. And I have learned that only one hat can be worn at a time.

When building characters and stories, the Creator introduces, the Reader attempts to connect, and the Editor fleshes out the personalities to make them and their world real and whole. The hats are aspects of the craft that repeats, each donned several times from beginning to end, and each with a specific purpose and goal, and likewise, requiring a singular focus.

Next week, I will delve into ideas, the germs of the story that requires wearing the hats in the first place. From there, I’ll be discussing how and why the Hats are different, and how to use each to its own distinct advantage.

If so inclined, comment on the processes with which you create your people and your worlds.

Until next time, write . . . .

Rick


This Week’s Quote:
“Writing a novel is like a newly turned field; full of hope and dreams of harvest.”
Rick “C” Langford