On some days, all I do while “writing” is to google how other people write, and then call it research.
Of course I get nothing done, apart from discouraging myself.
There’s a wealth of sites out there that tell you to read this book or another book, often titled “How to write a novel” or “The 10 best ways to self-edit” and so on. I did put a lot of those on my christmas wishlist. Then I saw the total price and very quickly deleted most of them again.
I also thought I want to write, not read about writing.
Nevertheless, my “research” (a-hum) takes me across websites with plenty of free advice for wannabe published authors like me. Some of it I can safely filter out right away. Like the one claiming nobody can be an author unless they read Freud. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to read Freud in order to write a good story, thanks.
But then there’s the advice that actually makes a lot of sense. Like
- “Do your research”,
- “Draft, then rewrite your draft.”,
- “Show, don’t tell.” and
- “Cut, cut, cut, then cut again.”
I almost never do any real research. This is new to me. So I went and tried it. For a scene taking place on a ship, I went and looked up the correct names for part and bits of the ship. I’m an avid reader of Alexander Kent and C.S.Forester, so I already know my way around a ship pretty well without ever having been sailing myself. But after looking up the actual terms, I re-wrote a scene where a character is shipwrecked. I liked the result much better than the previous version. It made it more real, somehow. I’m keeping that up.
Doing my research – check.
Drafting was more difficult. What exactly is the difference between a draft and a finished scene? When does a draft become finished? And how do I know? I couldn’t quite figure that one out, and felt ike I was doing something wrong. I think a scene through in my head first, often including dialog and so on, before I write it. I had pretty much given up on the drafting excercise before I realised that I draft in my head, not on paper. I play out the scene in my mind many times before I’m happy with it and put it on paper (or on screen). Then I realised that I often change little bits when I come back to a scene later. I change a thing here or there, rephrase something that doesn’t roll well with the rest…
Rewriting my draft – I’m learning that.
The bit about showing not telling I got instantly. I read a lot of books (make that A LOT), and I know how boring it is to be told stuff. You can’t get into a story if you’re not allowed to be there. I think I manage okay with that. My scenes contain lots of dialog, and the telling I do is more descriptive of the surroundings or the situation at hand, or done to speed things up that are not important right now. When I draft things out in my head, I play the scenes out in my head like little bits of film. I sort of stand around in the middle of the scene and watch and hear what’s happening. That’s how I write the scenes later, so I think I’m not droning on too much there.
Show don’t tell – check.
Now, the cutting thing I have a problem with. Several webistes I recently visited stressed the point that you have to get rid of unnecessary words, then axe some more words, and then go over it again and delete everything you really don’t need. I tried that. Didn’t work out so well. If I cut stuff from my scenes, I’m either left with unfinished sentences, or with a clipped style that is almost military and doesn’t read well. Obviously I wasn’t doing it right.
I want to write stories that people enjoy, so I want to do it right. Desperately. But whenever I cut my scenes down, I ended up with something I didn’t like, and by the time I had repaired the damage I was back to where I started, pretty much. Then I came across a website with a paragraph like this (I’m paraphrasing here):
Burdock is a great herbal remedy when it comes to dandruff. If you suffer from dandruff, and you want to use a herbal remedy, then Burdock is the herb to use for you. Herbal remedies like Burdock can be used as Burdock root oil, or you can use a Burdock tea as a herbal remedy to be used on the scalp to combat the dandruff…
Now, I admire the writer who managed to squeeze the terms “herbal remedy” and “burdock” in every sentence at least once. Great for SEO, and it worked too, as they were very high on the google result list. However, I wanted to have a red crayon and edit the whole thing right on my screen. My own version would have been something like this:
Burdock is used as a herbal remedy for dandruff, by applying root oil or tea to the scalp.
And that’s it. No wonder I sometimes have trouble filling my own website… And that day I realized why I didn’t get the bit about cutting down my sentences. I just don’t write such interloping sentences. At the risk of sounding a bit arrogant, I’m gonna say I don’t need to cut (much). So that rule doesn’t apply to me. Instead, here’s a new rule:
If the rule doesn’t apply to you – screw it and carry on!