Had an epiphany a while back. As a writer, we wear three different hats; Creator, Reader and Critic. There have been problems separating them in the past, but one day I was reading through my recent work (as a critic), and realized I had not been very good at that particular function. I decided to take the next week and wear a 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 130,000. Six thousand words eliminated, but more than that, I learned an invaluable lesson: Brutality.
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.
It showed me the nuances between those three writer’s hats, how each has their distinctly different function, and that you can’t wear more than one hat at a time.
This hat is worn at the outset, and may be before or after you outlined the plot and characters. This is the urgency stage when you’re cold, in need of warmth and first stoke the fires of creativity. The Burning Stage. It’s exciting, this first draft when your characters start to become people, friends, and the world you envision begins to take on life. Do Not Stop writing, and do not take time to read anything except the last paragraph or page to get the writer’s blood pumping so as to continue the story. Getting to the end is the goal, and putting on your Reader or Critic’s hat at this point will certainly derail any effort to finish.
This is the softer and gentler hat, like the comfort of a fireplace burning peacefully for the last several hours. The Glow Stage. This stage requires a length of time (at least a week, preferably more) after the Creator’s hat is removed. During this time, work on another writing project, and that way you will always have something to keep you occupied while forgetting about the completed work. You want to sever the ties between the Creator and Reader as best you can.
Take some time to congratulate yourself. Not everybody completes a piece of writing, and ignore the pesky Critic that taunts you with reminders that you have no talent. He’s a vicious beast, but one that has his uses. He will get his turn, but for now enjoy the contentment that you have done what few have. Especially a novel. Wow! There’s a lot of work in that, so be proud.
I print out a copy of the writing and read through as if for the first time. It is not an easy thing to do, but I find the more time I allow (especially for a longer work like a novel), the more inclined I am to read it with a fresh perspective. I make few notes, only things like consistency issues or a rough spot that stopped me reading. I might circle a weak verb or the overuse of a single word, but nothing that takes any time. My goal is to read the story in its entirety. I go through the entire work, a single sitting for a short story and no more than four instances for a novel, paying special attention to plot flow and character development.
I then take a couple days to digest what I read, making notes of my observations and things that did not feel right. At this point they are generalities, overviews. Specifics will be addressed when I’m wearing the Critic’s hat, and you can be sure that hat is anxiously awaiting its turn.
Although one hat is not more important than another, the Critic’s has a vital role unlike the others. He is the arbitrator, business-like and unyielding when it comes to his specific goal—improvement. He 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 his narrow liking. The Dousing Stage.
There must be honesty when wearing the Critic’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 it should be kept because it’s so good. “Nonsense, if it does not benefit the story, its use is deemed pointless, and worse than that, offensive.”
The Critic’s world is revision, and he wields his scepter with the will of any ruler. He is the one who has final say, the one that knows better, but like any ruler, has the ability to be fair or cruel. At different times, he may have to be both. He will make mistakes, no doubt, but afford him that, and he will be tempered into a just ruler. Brutal and honest is his driving goal, and he will hurt your pride and attempt to destroy your desire in an effort to make you better. And when he succeeds in making you a better writer, you will have no louder cheerleader when the writing is being addressed for an agent or editor’s desk. Listen to the Critic, but let the others have their say too. Writing is a combined effort, after all.
A last note on the Writer’s Three Hats: Each will be worn several times during the writing and polishing of a manuscript, and it’s important to remember which one you’re wearing at any given juncture. Careful, because it is not difficult to blur them and allow one of the others to gain momentum. Step back if it happens, talk to yourself if you have to, but keep them separate.
How do you separate writing processes?