Advice, Writing

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. 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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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