We’ve all heard them, those little myths we get from the internet or someone who knows someone who heard that it’s the proper way to do things and you couldn’t possibly get it right or become a better writer if you don’t follow the rules. But what rules? And who set them? Here’s some I have heard or once believed before I, you know, actually started writing and realised they were all stupid.
Write in a Linear Fashion to Avoid Confusing Yourself
Do we heck! Whether working on my completed novel Dieu Et Mon Droit, my Romans vs Aliens novel or DNF, none of my work was written as it was meant to be read – with the exception of The Cold Man serial appearing on this blog, as I have largely improvised that on each given Sunday (please go and read it!). The first chapter I wrote for Dieu et Mon Droit was Chapter 2. Actually, the first thing I wrote for it was an unused prologue that I never had any intention of using in the finished book. Romans Vs Aliens (I really need to come up with a title soon) has been more like a jigsaw puzzle. True, I did write chapters 1 and 2 first, because that was building these characters and the first idea I had wasn’t the plot, but the characters. Once I had established them in chapters 1, 2 and 3 I jumped way ahead to what will approximately be half way through the book. Then I compiled a handful of flashbacks that I will work into the text as I piece the novel together.
You Should Write Every Day
If this was true then I have already failed miserably at being a writer. I won’t claim I don’t have time, because I do. Sometimes – especially when I may have churned out 3000 words of writing for clients, the last thing I want to do is get to work on my novel because I sometimes feel too burnt out to work on it. Even if I had the time, the muse doesn’t always take me. I can sometimes go weeks without writing anything and then bang out a solid 5000 words in two evenings. As I am in a long distance relationship at the moment, I usually find and make time to write during my 4-6 hour train journeys down to Cornwall and back. Last week, I wrote 1500 words of DNF left my zombie runners at a critical moment, promising myself to come straight back. I haven’t touched it since.
Writing Should Never Be Discarded
This goes down a rather over-romanticised route that what is created is somehow sacred. Anyone who has ever tried to create anything knows that this is not true. I have discarded novels that were 50,000 words strong in the past because I felt – on reflection – they were a load of crap or that I simply lost the desire to ever again work on it. Call me a philistine, call me the literary equivalent of an iconoclast but we can’t enshrine everything we create. On the contrary, we should always be prepared to “murder our darlings”. Our darlings can include characters – and this doesn’t just mean killing them off, it also means erasing them from ever having existed. It means whole chapters, large sections that lead to dead ends and anything else that doesn’t work.
The First Draft is Always Shit
Ernest Hemingway said this and far be it from me to challenge it, it’s not always true. Don’t get me wrong, you are going to need to make a lot of changes and you are going to make those changes. You’ll find bits that seemed like a good idea at the time but no longer work. There will be characters who don’t work, plot points that don’t go anywhere, developments that don’t develop, Chekhov’s Guns that don’t get fired and so on. You’ll remove characters as though they never existed, you’ll move the sense of place, gender switch your characters, condense some and shoehorn in new ones. Yet in amongst that you will find perfect moments where stuff just works and it is around this that you should build your story. If it works, there’s no reason you should change it – and that includes tone and content. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – even if it does appear in the first draft.
Don’t Revise or Edit as You Go
This once again pushes the linear format that doesn’t work for most writers. The fun, apparently, exists entirely in the writing whereas editing is the chore that nobody likes – writing is the pork and crackling, and editing is the mountain of sprouts – you don’t want to, but you know you have to so save it for the end when you’ve finished off the good stuff. Poppycock! You will get new ideas and what once might have seemed a great idea will be superseded by a better idea; you won’t feel satisfied until you have gone back and changed that something or removed it. Editing as you go in line with new ideas keeps the text tight and consistent. You have the added bonus too that simply reading through your older text is a good idea for the sake of refreshing in your own mind of what happens and when.