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.