Writing Without Shame

Last week, a book I requested arrived at my library. I can’t remember who suggested the book, but I’m glad I paid attention. The book, Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing by Les Edgerton, has caused me to mentally shout YES! several times, and I’m only a third done reading it.

Because I haven’t read the whole book, I can’t say I’ll agree with all Edgerton has to say, but I want to share something that made me put the book down and start writing this post.

I used to rail against the writing rules a lot around here. As a newbie writer, I tried to obey most of them. With more experience, I learned to follow what worked for me and ignore what didn’t, but there was one rule I felt conflicted about every time I bucked it.

Ever since I decided to write seriously with the aim of publication, I’ve read one particular bit of writing advice consistently. Write fast. Get the story down. Don’t worry about it being a sh**ty first draft, you’ll fix it later.

That Fast First Draft advice has always horrified me. Truly. Horrified. It’s so at odds with my nature that I think I’d rather quit writing than write that way. So, I don’t write fast first drafts. That’s a Writing Rule I never obeyed, but the advice to do so is so prevalent, I questioned whether something was wrong with my brain.

Not so, says Edgerton. That advice doesn’t work for him either. He says:

All my instincts told me this was the wrong approach for my own prose. Rushing ahead, getting stuff down just felt wrong. What I wanted to do was find the perfect word for what I was trying to say before continuing. I had this uneasy feeling in my stomach that I’d forget to change it if I went on. Even if I marked it. I just wouldn’t be able to recapture what I was feeling or “seeing” then. I got a feeling I ignored, but one I should have paid attention to. I’ll bet you’ve experienced the same thing, at least occasionally. You know what you’re doing is “by the book”, but it just doesn’t feel right.

Trust those feelings! Your wonderful, smart, cool, learned mind is telling you something important. Pay attention to it.

EXACTLY! If I don’t get the sentence, the paragraph, the scene down at least 90% right the first time, it’s likely I’ll lose the “magic”. I know this because it happens nearly every time I leave myself a “fix this” note and push on.

The popularity of NaNoWriMo, in addition to most blogs and books for writers, tells me that Les Edgerton and I are in the minority on this, but that won’t nag me any longer. I’m relieved. There’s nothing wrong with my brain—at least, not in this instance. 🙂 I will hold my head up while I write in my slow and precise way. The only “wrong” way to write is the one that doesn’t work.

20 thoughts on “Writing Without Shame

  1. Thanks, Linda, for this post. It came at a timely moment for me. There is no ‘right’ way…no ‘right’ strand. Just many threads from which to explore. Feeling more inspired right now 🙂

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  2. You write how you write. Our processes are as unique as our stories and voices. For me, the first draft has to be fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid. I have to just get the story out and discover what it’s about. Then I have to take it apart piece by piece and put it back together. I’ve tried other ways–they don’t work for me. I always feel guilty when I read about people who do strict outlines and stick to them. The truth is that we all just write how we write, and every way is valid. 🙂

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  3. I have to just throw things at the page – that’s how I work, but I am chaotic and unorganized and my “black hole” brain won’t work any other way. I always tell writers to do what works for them – to FIND what works, their voice, their style, their way of writing. That’s why when I do monday classroom I’m always nervous a little – because I want people to find their own way and I’m only telling what works for me (unless it’s about grammar – then everyone should listen to me *laughing!*).

    The reason writers will tell other writers just “to write it down quickly” is when writers say they can’t write, that they can’t seem to get started -they are stuck and frustrated and worried they’ll never write a word– so, we tell them just to sit down and put something on the page and eventually the sub con mind takes over and there you go -you find what you were looking for. So, it’s not that writers “should” write this way – many writers outline and plan and pay attention to every phrase, and they do fine. It’s only when we hear writers’ frustrations over not being able to find a way to write ANYTHING, and feel stuck – at least that’s my interpretation of it!

    Been out of town for 10 days and have missed some good posts here I bet (plus getting ready to work on next book -lawd).

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    1. That’s how I hope my readers take my “writing lesson” posts, Kat.

      And I do understand the advice to sit down and try writing something until you break through. But this fast first draft advice was not just for when you’re blocked or empty, but for every time you write. Some people do well dashing off a first draft and then revising as many times as it takes to get it in shape. Not all of us can work that way. It just takes time to muddle through all the wrong for you advice to find what works.

      I followed your 10 days away and you were in the better place. 🙂

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  4. I think we should consider rules merely as guidelines…not hard and fast.
    I write fast on the first draft but that mostly applies to punctuation. If I’m not comfortable with the way something is worded then I usually stick with it for a while until I’m happy with it. Compared to other writers though, you could call me one of the fast writers.
    I read a blog post the other day blasting writers for the way they critique other writers. Accusing writers of using critique as a way to bring down and destroy the confidence of other writers. But in truth we all have different methods and ideas of how things should/could be done. Other people’s ideas and suggestions shouldn’t keep us from following our own instincts. In addition to that, we all write in different genres which usually require different methods too. For example, I write romance, romance requires a happily ever after or a happy for now ending. It’s not a suggestion; it’s something that romance readers require. And after all, that is who we’re writing for…readers.
    I think you’ll write the best you can by doing what feels right to you. I know that’s difficult to do, especially when we’re raised to follow the rules, but hey, sometimes we have to color outside the lines to get the picture the way we want it.

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    1. I agree, Dana, rules are only guidelines, except for grammar and punctuation. 😉 The fast first draft works well for most writers, but for those it doesn’t, I hope they learn quickly to write at their own pace.

      I hope I never have a critique partner that tries to sabotage me. That’s horrible. I think what’s missing from many critique groups is warning to beginning writers that feedback should be considered, but not slavishly adopted. I was on my own when I started out, and I assumed that when someone presented themselves as the leader of the group, or a mentor, I should “obey” everything they said. Any voice I was developing was quickly squelched. But I don’t think they did that out of meanness, just because they weren’t as qualified or experienced as they thought they were.

      And yes, we’re writing for readers. Edgerton has some interesting things to say about that too!

      I’m feeling inspired to “color outside the lines”. 🙂

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  5. I know with certainty that 2 members of my group don’t write unless they have an outline, and everything is very solid before they can move on. The downside to that–according to them–is that they then waste a lot of time working out perfect scenes that will be cut.
    While I, a pure panster, will then need to rewrite scenes that do stay because they are so badly written. I think it all comes even in the end.
    There is no right and wrong here, LInda. Only what works.

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    1. You’re welcome, Darlene. Maybe we “polish as I go” writers need to be more vocal. I remember one time when I tried to force myself to fast write. I think I made it through two and a half pages before I had to go back and edit a sentence I knew was a mess. 😉

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  6. When I am “blocked or empty” I do find that it helps to just write but most of the time I am like you and prefer to have my words about 90% before moving on. Thanks for the heads up on the book. I shall see if my library has a copy.

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  7. Ah, I’m glad someone wrote that. I think I do that very thing, to some degree. I used to try to write the whole thing out and get annoyed when later, I’d have to go back and make changes allover the place. Move one cog and the whole work shifts. Forget to shift any one cog and later on the thing won’t roll.

    Although there are time where I’ll write out a few pages, kind of blocking it with simple sentences, “John loses his job first, then goes home and third, see’s an alien.” Then I’ll keep writing whatever is coming to me, which might be about how he got his job, or why he hates his job, or the boss who fired him, his childhood fear of aliens, yadda yadda yadda, and after I’ve gotten all that out of my system, I go back and start paring down, tapping into the emotion of the moment and writing more eloquently if I can. 🙂

    I too have learned to trust this works for me and not push myself through an entire first rough draft. YAY! Thanks for writing this blog. It’s good to know I’m not the only one out there thinking, “I want to do it this way.”

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    1. This is probably a dangerous book for me to read, Jess. I’m apt to be more stubborn than usual now. 😉 Then again, I might just start writing fiction that blows people away.

      I do think the most important rule concerning writing style is to follow your instincts. Use good grammar and punctuation, but find your own style and don’t let anyone mess with it.

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  8. I say who the heck cares how you get there, as long as in the end you can write – The End.

    Personally I used to love writing and never ran out of things to say, until I started reading so many advice books and commentaries on “the right way to write and market yourself.” Suddently the romance was gone. Writing became a chore and not a love. A business and not a creative endeavor. Don’t lose your spark, Linda. Or you will end up like me, washed up before the second inning.

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  9. Linda, I just wanted to thank you for re-running your post here. You can’t imagine how timely it was for me! The print version has sold out from Writer’s Digest Books and my agent secured the ebook rights for me and we’re bringing out an ebook version in just a few days. It’ll be priced at $4.99, about half the price that WD usually charges for their ebooks. Hope some of your readers glom onto a copy and hope it helps their own writing. Again… THANK YOU!

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