Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writing and Revising

I’ve always been interested in the craft of writing. In every interview I conduct with a writer, I try to ask about their method of writing. As you might imagine, there are as many answers as there are writers. You have to find what works for you. But it basically breaks down into two camps: the writers who slowly craft their story, revising as they go, and those who don’t look back until they finish the story.

After years of trial and error, I find that I fall into the latter group.

Writing, for me, is a head game. I have to convince myself that the story is worth telling and I am the only guy who can do it. Then, once the writing begins, I have to trust myself to tell the story. It is so easy to get distracted or discouraged by doubting yourself as you go along. Perhaps it’s part of my nature to look for reasons not to write, but in the past I’ve scapped countless projects because of a lack of confidence in what I had written, projects that – had I stuck with them – would likely be publishable.

So experience has taught me to just sit down and write, damn it, until I reach the end. For me, writing is most gratifying when I get caught up in the heat of the story, letting it pour out. The results always feel more honest and powerful, whereas a story that I’ve carefully plotted in advance and revised constantly during the actual writing can feel cold and contrived.

When I finish I can revise and, if necessary, fix story problems. And I find a lot of things to fix, believe me. You’re talking to the king of typos. On the other hand, I usually discover that those parts of the story that were originally doubt-inducing read just fine in the finished product.

A few days ago I was rereading The Gunslinger by Stephen King and found inspiration in his foreword to the revised edition:

“My approach to revision hasn’t changed much over the years. I know there are writers who do it as they go along, but my method of attack has always been to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible by constant use, and trying to outrun the novelist’s most insidious enemy, which is doubt. Looking back prompts too many questions: How believable are my characters? How interesting is my story? How good is this, really? Will anyone care? Do I care myself?”

As usual, King says it better than anybody.

So how do you write?

1 comment:

Mark said...

How do I write? Abortively. I've been trying for some time to convince myself to attempt a big writing project. Just haven't worked up the nerve. Will probably get around to it a couple of weeks after the eventual Death of Print.

I think the key for me might be to chop up the job into doable chunks. That probably means outlining. Any thoughts you have on that, I'd love to hear them.