Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Great Caesar's Ghost!

Last Saturday one of the Mavens gave a wonderful short program at our RWA chapter meeting. It was called "Tell the Story and Screw the Rules (at least some of them)" and it struck a real chord with me. Maven Beverly Barton told how many writers begin to write, then learn a bunch of rules and finally begin to doubt their own abilities. They concentrate so hard on not breaking the rules that they can't tell the story.

If she'd asked for victims of Rule-itis to raise their hands, mine would have been up high. I used to just sit at the computer and write. I never worried about POV, adverbs, that, was, felt, said or any of the other multitude of things we learn in writing workshops and from books.

Then I started thinking about those rules and writing came to a screeching halt. It's not that the workshops or books are bad; it's just that we begin to let skill start taking over the storytelling. I discovered I had an internal editor. I liken him to Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, the greatest newspaper in Metropolis. You may recognize him as



Regardless of which incarnation of Perry you're familiar with, every time I sat down at the computer to write, he was in my head and shouting

Then I began to hear about a malady called Rule-itis and about various methods to control it. Writing at the computer didn't seem to work. Not only did I have Perry, I had email and the internet to distract me.

So I got an AlphaSmart, and while this helps and is extremely convenient, I still heard faint echoes of "Great Caesar's Ghost" from old Perry.

One weekend I went out of town and forgot to take my AlphaSmart or the flash drive for the laptop I keep at our weekend camper. Uh oh! So I pulled out a legal pad and pen and oh my mercy! That first draft just flowed out of me. I wrote 25 pages that weekend. Perry White was disappeared. Mostly.

I took those pages home and typed them into the computer and that transcription was my first edit. Then I printed the document because I work best from a paper copy and I edited again. Next thing I knew, I had a finished copy of a short story to send off to New York City.

To quote Henry Higgins, "By Jove, I think she's got it!"

I'm working on a new story now and in the past two days I've written almost eleven pages in longhand. I tend to write just the bare-bones story first. I'll make notes in the margin to "add scene location description" or "describe the hero" or "show this with dialogue." These will get put in during the transcription or the next edit. If my first draft runs short, adding in the descriptions and dialogue will usually bring it up to the required number of pages.

Now, my first drafts aren't pretty.

There are lines marked through. Asterisks indicating something to be inserted. Arrows redirecting a paragraph.

But you know what? It works for me. And I'm tickled pink to finally be able to write something again.

Everyone has his or her own process. It's usually something that evolves and there is no right or wrong process. It's just whatever works for you.

Does Perry White live inside your head? Or have you worked out a process that banishes him back to his office at the Daily Planet?

P.S. I'd like to send a shout-out to Roxann Delaney who was one of my roomies at my very first national conference and who is also a website genius and tremendous author.

Happy birthday Rox!


Roxann Delaney said...

Thank you, Playground Monitor! ::grin::

Instigator said...

Oh, I got rule-itis alright. Right about the time I got pregnant - double whammy. What worked for me? Time - and placing in and winning some contests. There's nothing like a validation of your ability to help banish that doubting voice inside your head that keeps telling you you've done it wrong.

Also, my alphasmart helped. I can't edit, read back over my stuff, or generally convince myself whatever I'm writing is goo. It might be, but then again it might not be. Whatever it is I can fix it, make it stronger, or scrap it all together - during editing.

This is one of the reasons Angel, Smarty Pants, and I are working on the rough draft in 6 weeks challenge. We're trying to just get it down on paper (or in a file). After that we'll probably explore editing in 30 days or less :-)


Playground Monitor said...

Oh yes! The validation is great. After the magazine bought my first short story it gave me a tremendous boost of confidence. I remember thinking "Maybe my writing doesn't suck after all."

Kathy said...

Happy Birthday, Roxann!

Oh, PM you've opened up a keg of worms. Perry White? I have Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and the Queen of Hearts standing over my shoulder yelling "Off with her head!" Try to get some work done in that environment.

I really struggle with this topic but I'm forcing myself to work through it. In fact, I'm thinking of hiring out. Perhaps I could get the Three Stooges to watch my back. Nah. Then I'd hear, "Why I oughta..." all day long. What about Batman and Robin. "Holy proverbial nonsense, Batman." No, no. Well... maybe I should just try to fly the skies solo. Solo, that's it, Hans Solo. No, then I'd hear Chubaka screaming behind my ear.

What am I thinking?

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Rox!


Angel said...

You know, it never occurred to me to name my internal editor. Great examples, Kathy!

Well, I've tried to reply several times today. Maybe this one will go through.

I have a process very similar to your newly discovered one, PM, so let me be the first to say, "Welcome to the First-Draft-Longhand club." Not a very catchy name, but it works. And don't let anyone try to convince you to do it differently just because it will be quicker.

Congratulations on all your productivity lately and your recent sales! We're so proud of you.