Today’s creative writing advice–one in my series of more creative writing DO’s— is easy to admit, simple to agree with, and difficult as all get out to implement:
DO create emotional distance between yourself and your work.
I honestly feel that anyone, with the time and dedication, can write a novel. Writing a good novel is something else entirely. That takes even more time, and sweat, and sometimes even tears. It requires devastating blows to your ego. The only possible way to survive those blows is to distance yourself from your creative output. Truly. Consider all the things that go into shaping a great book:
- Cutting scenes. Cutting cutting cutting. Scenes you spent weeks working on and worrying about. Scenes you LOVE. Scenes are that honestly well written and that you’re proud of. Scenes you’d like to show off, because they say something you or about life you would like to share with others. To quote Stephen King, you have to “kill your darlings.”
- Admitting what’s not good. No first draft of a novel is fantastic, especially when you’re first learning how to write. To successfully edit, you have to be able to recognize that your darling has lots of flaws. Sure, you love it, and you should love it. That’s not a bad thing in the slightest. But your darling isn’t perfect. It needs work. If you can’t recognize where things aren’t right, you can’t make them right.
- Keeping an open mind when others say something doesn’t click. At some point, you should have beta readers and editors if you’re considering publishing your novel. And those beta readers and editors will say some things you need to hear, but you don’t want to. When they tell you something you don’t like or agree with, you need to step back and calmly, without bias, consider the merits of the other position. 99% of the time, they are right.
All these things require distance. You can’t be defensive, you can’t be thin-skinned, and you can’t cling to the work as it is because it’s your baby and you wrote it. It’s hard as the dickens to approach your work as though you have no personal investment in it and to judge its merits that way. In truth, I can’t say I’ve ever managed to do that. But I try to get as close to that as I can.
Tips to create distance
So, how can you create distance to the best degree possible? There are different strategies that can help. I wanted to share them here.
- TIME. Time works wonders. Let your work sit for a while (Stephen King suggests two months but that’s impossible for most people) and then come back to it. Reading it after that separation will allow you to see it “fresh” to a real degree. The inconsistencies, the flaws, the problems with description and pacing, they will jump out at you as you read because you no longer have freshly ingrained knowledge of the work in your head to interfere. You’ll be reading, in as close a way as possible, to the way your readers will be reading.
- DO I WANT A GREAT BOOK OR NOT? This is a great question to ask yourself when you’re on the fence about cutting or changing something you know you probably should, but you still don’t want to. Sure, that scene is cool. But it doesn’t add to the story. It doesn’t add a thing. In itself it might be great, but keeping it in will decrease the overall quality of the novel. So, do you want a great book, or not?
- WOULD I RATHER RECOGNIZE A PROBLEM, OR HAVE READERS DO IT? It’s so easy to dwell in the land of willful blindness. It’s so easy to choose not to see what’s wrong about your own work and just not deal with it. Resist that temptation. Because whether or not you admit them and deal with them, the problems are there. You have two choices: you can recognize them, or let other people recognize them. What’s the better option?