09 December 2015

The writing process: The hardest part

Pen & ink by Cara Christine Hubbell
One of my coaching clients is in the process of revising her manuscript in response to developmental feedback on her beta draft. This, for me, is the most challenging phase of the writing process for two reasons:

1. I have to switch back and forth between my analytical brain and my creative brain.
I don't know what it's like for you, but for me, this is SO HARD. While the creator's job is to provide a fertile ground, sunlight, and water to nourish all seeds, the editor's job is to spray weed killer on the plants that don't belong. Having both sides come out at once is like watering a plant and spraying weed killer on it at the same time. Very confusing.

2. It's time to let go of the original vision.
This is the hardest part of all, the part where I have to shed all my hopes and dreams and expectations for the story and look at it through a totally different lens, one that allows me to see (with help from my beta readers, of course) not what I hoped or intended to accomplish but what is actually there.

In the earlier phases of the writing process, it was all about exploring new territory. But from now on, it's about setting boundaries and cataloging and cultivating the territory already explored. I may find that, contrary to what I thought was going to happen, I did not find the cure for cancer; but I usually find other things I hadn't expected. So this phase of the writing process is about making that switch: stop seeing the lack of the cure for cancer and start seeing what you have found.

This is where letting some time pass between drafts can be really helpful. If I can let enough time pass - or maybe just enough new information crowd into my head - to forget what I was trying to do, then I can better see what the book actually wants to be and how to get it there.

As for that tricky back-and-forth between creative and analytical brains, my strategy is to separate the feedback into three lists: developmental, line, and copy. I set aside the line and copy feedback (because this is not the time to deal with them) and then prioritize the developmental feedback based on several key factors: how difficult the issue will be to resolve, whether it requires me to write new material, how important the issue is to a satisfying reader experience, etc. When possible, I prioritize tasks that require new writing over rewriting, and rewriting over cutting or working on transitions. The point being to group all the creative-brain tasks together and gradually work into tasks that take more and more of the editing brain. I tackle my prioritized list one thing at a time, taking a problem-based approach to revision rather than trying to work my way through the manuscript chronologically. I also try to forget anything that my beta readers/editor didn't mention, trusting that, if it's important, it'll come up in the next round.

How do you tackle this phase of the process? What's the hardest part of the writing process for you?

1 comment:

  1. Letting of what you intended- gee. I so related to that! The creative process is wonderful, but also scary. As writers we have this dream of what we want to create and it can blind us to what it is we are actually creating. AND the beauty often of what is actually already in the page. It's a tension I often feel in my work. I am still learning :)