I got to the end of my first draft of Hampton Court Ghost. I smiled, patted myself on the back, content that the hard part was over. I had started with a premise, refined it and wrote it down, got my characters in order, plotted out the various bits and pieces and cracked on with it bit by bit.
What went wrong?
What makes you say that, the title of this post? Yeah, well, good pickup.
I went back to read it the next day and, half way through, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I had done it again. I had ignored that little voice inside me, that voice that tells me, “Dude, that’s not believable. It’s convoluted. Whoa! That’s just wrong.”
Now that voice was back, nattering like a parrot, “I told you so! I told you so!”
It is too hard to ignore now. And, what’s more, it is 100% right.
So I got to thinking about why I had ignored it while I was writing. If I had stopped and paid attention to it, back then, back when things were pliable and fresh, maybe I wouldn’t be in such a pickle. Maybe. So I was silly to push forward with an unworkable idea. Again, maybe.
Hindsight, my old companion! How do you do? Can you shed any light on this? Am I an idiot or was the a valid reason for attempting to defy the laws of common sense?
No, says Hindsight, for that’s just part of the writing process. You would be an idiot if you decided that, after the review, after the cringing and face-palming, you’d run with it anyway. That would be stupid.
But, I counter, wasn’t I silly to have gotten to this state when I could have nipped it in the bud all the way back at inception?
No, says Hindsight again, why, do you want be an idiot? That nagging voice is there for a reason. It’s your moderation. It’s your censor. It’s your doubt and disbelief. It’s your ultimate critic. Without it, you would have been very happy to publish that garbage and pin your name on it.
But nothing! (Hindsight can be quite rude at times) Quit interrupting and listen: When writing fiction there’s the creative side and the critical side. The creative side comes up with really cool ideas, “What about this? How about that? Instead of X why don’t we try Q?” It’s fun, it’s kooky and it’s insane. You cannot rely on it to come up with something purely sensible since its origins are abstract.
The critical side is that pesky, droll-voiced know-it-all that picks out flaws here and there as you’re going along, circling bad grammar, asking you politely, but firmly, to read that last paragraph before you go too far. It’s the voice of reason, keeping you on topic, on premise, on character. It’s boring and stiff.
The two work toward a common goal, yet are in opposition to each other, like bipartisan politics without the snarkiness and bickering.
So which one is to blame?
I must have given too much influence to my creativity, right? Or was it that my critical side spoke too softly and didn’t wield a large enough stick?
Boo! What a cop out! No, really, and this is why: The creative side did exactly what it was supposed to do. It came up with a weird, albeit unworkable, plot, full of holes and unwritten with a bold flourish of nonsense.
Still, it was interesting, not like that’s a good enough consolation. I’ve got to rip out eighty percent of what I wrote, think up a new plot and practically write it all again! Yeah, true, can’t deny I’m pissed at that.
But what if it worked? What if the gamble paid off? I could have had a really zany, compelling story on my hands. Like an artist being unfairly critiqued while laying down the sketches, the creative side needs freedom to experiment, to push the pre-defined boundaries and, of course, to make mistakes.
And when the juices are flowing, I make it a rule not to get in the way of creativity: Bad grammar, punctuation, notes to self, all of it takes a back seat when I’m on a run. When the dust settles, the red pen comes out, the Punctuation Parrot sits on my shoulder and the going is slower, but safer.
The lesson to learn here is that there isn’t a set formula: 1 hour creative, 1 hour critical isn’t going to work. Creativity comes in spurts, at random intervals, sometimes not for days or weeks at a time. Let it go, let it run free, let it make the biggest friggin’ mess you’ve ever seen BUT, after the fun, you need to get your mop out and start cleaning up.
If you’re a budding writer and you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t lose heart. It’s all part of the process. Sure, it’s painful. Sure, it’s just doubled your effort for no perceived reward. Sure, it’ll delay the release of your book.
This is what defines you as an author: Are you willing to suck it up and revise your book, or even scrap it altogether, so that you only serve up fresh dishes to your readers?