Veronica Roth is one of the coolest people I’ve never met. From the Twittersphere to the AW boards, she is liked by all and with good reason as she is genuine and kind. Just read her blog posts if you don’t believe me. And this week, she will be my roomie at SCBWI. (WOOT!) Her YA dystopian thriller, DIVERGENT, will be out Summer 2011 from Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Read about the greatest lesson she learned in the last year, and don’t forget to enter my contest to win a blog makeover!
First of all: HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY, CORY! WOO!
Second of all: the greatest writing lesson I’ve learned this year is, in a word, detachment.
A piece of writing advice we throw around a lot is: murder your darlings. And it basically means that as a writer, you should be willing to eliminate or change your favorite lines, sections, scenes, chapters, even characters—and actually, it’s probably the pieces you like best that need to go. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that isn’t enough. Don’t have darlings to begin with. That’s my advice.
I am not saying that you should not love your work, or even that you should not love specific aspects of your work more than others. I still have favorite lines, favorite characters, favorite scenes. But there is a difference between loving something and clinging to it.
Unpause. (Play? Whatever.)
This is really only a half-learned lesson, because it’s completely counter-intuitive to what I’ve been doing my entire life. But even the half that I have learned has helped me immensely, at every level of the writing process. Here’s how.
Don’t get attached to your initial ideas. Most of the time, my first ideas are the most obvious plot problems and the easiest plot solutions; they are the most cliché, overdone characters and the most boring scenes. They should be shot. In the eye. With a gun.
It’s like this: get a photograph, touch your nose to it, and stare at it. Can you see anything but a huge blur? (If so, you must be some kind of eye mutant, and science should totally study you.) No? That’s because you’re too close to it. If you could just back away from that photograph, you could see it for what it really is. Same goes with ideas. Think of them, entertain them, and set them aside.
I use my memory like a sifter. Good ideas stick in my mind. Bad ideas often don’t. Trust your brain.
No matter how much better I get at writing, my first draft is always full. Of. Crap.
(Or if it’s not full of crap, it’s devoid of OOMPH, which is equally problematic.)
We all know that our first drafts aren’t going to be perfect, and I was no exception when I wrote the first draft of my manuscript. But something I did differently this time is that while writing, I told myself that nothing—not a character, not a scene, not an entire plot arc—was guaranteed a spot in the second draft.
And when I finished, and had to decide what to revise, I started cutting things out like a madwoman. I yanked characters. I changed the ending. I shifted the allegiances of characters. I didn’t hesitate, and it didn’t hurt. In fact, most of the time? It was FUN. Instead of the drudgery of revisions, I saw…possibilities.
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
(Like this. Only less intense.)
I have revised my manuscript eight times. My manuscript has doubled in size since the first draft. Sometimes I got so frustrated that I considered abandoning writing and becoming a potato farmer in Idaho instead. I constantly had to step back from my work and listen to what other people had to say. Most of the time, I didn’t take their exact suggestions. But I listened to the underlying problems they were pointing out and tried to find a way to address that problem in my own way.
The only way I was able to do that in the first place was that I was not convinced my manuscript was awesome the way it was. Good? Sure. But not mind-numbingly, brain-explodingly awesome. Never awesome. And that freed me to seek ways to improve it. It made me believe that improvement was possible.
That isn’t discouragement. It’s freedom.
(Original is here.)
The Writing Life
I think it’s good to want things, and it’s even good to want them so much you get upset if you don’t get them. But sometimes we cling so hard to what we want that it shatters us when we don’t get it. But rejection shouldn’t shatter you; months without offers shouldn’t ruin you; failed books shouldn’t wreck you. Hold on to the goal, but don’t hold on to the work. Let it go. Learn from it. Write something better. That’s all you can do.
I’m not perfect at it, this detached thing. But here are the things I tell myself:
1. I am not the best writer I can be. And that’s okay. I do some things very well. But I will get better.
2. My manuscript is not awesome. Maybe it’s good, solid, polished, and interesting. Maybe it’s completely worthy of being published. But there are problems there, even if I can’t see them. And when I do see them, I will fix them.
3. I am not afraid to lose the good things when I revise. If an element of the story that I liked disappears, something better will replace it, and the old version will still exist in my mind. And in my documents folder.
4. I will write better manuscripts than this. This is not my life’s work. It is not my masterpiece. This is just the beginning.
And most important of all:
5. I am tied to nothing. If I clench my work into my fists, my hands won’t be open to receive anything new.
So: open hands! Clear heads! Free hearts! It’s like a football chant! Go!