Writerly Tips on Patience, Editing, and Heart
by Catherine Knutsson
So. I am here to inspire! I hope I do, because goodness knows we all need a little inspiration! Writing is hard work, and often lonely work, and for me, it’s often scary work, too. But, there are things every writer can do to smooth the path, so to speak. Some of what I suggest below may go against the grain, but think of this as food for thought, or tools to stick in your toolbox.
Item #1: Be One With the Stew
When I was trying to figure out what to write for this post, a writerly friend reminded me of a bit of help I gave her once regarding stew. Here’s the thing: writing is like stew. Stew takes time. If you try to eat stew before it’s, well, stewed, you’ll be eating a flavorless slop that’s tough and chewy and not so great. But, if you wait, if you’re patient, if you tend it and season it and nurture it, stew will, given time, become mellow and rich and layered with flavor, and it only gets better as time goes on.
Writing, for me, is often like that. If I rush something, I inevitably don’t do my best work. I need to let things rest, mellow, hang out in my mind, steep. Sometimes, that means letting a work sit for a really long time until I feel I’ve garnered the skills I need to do the story justice. And, by a really long time, I mean years! Sometimes, the stewing process means I write multiple drafts until I find the one that tells the story in the way it’s meant to be told. That’s an arduous process, to be sure, but it’s a necessary one. Skip it, or rush it, and I always seem to end up having to do more work in the end, rather than less.
And, look at all the things in life that take time: wine, tea, mail, having a baby, having a book. So, rather than fight the stew, be one with the stew. Settle in, give it some love, and wait...
Item #2: Make Friends With your Inner Editor
I know, I know. Everyone says that you shouldn’t listen to your inner editor, that mouthy, nasty voice in your head that says “You suck! You so suck! You are the suckiest sucker in all of Suckington!”
That, I think, is what happens when one isn’t friends with one’s inner editor.
Because, here’s the thing: I have learned that often, my inner editor is right. Not about the sucking part, although, goodness knows I have written sucky things. Suck happens. This is a fact. And that’s what my inner editor resorts to yelling when I haven’t listened to her good advice along the way. Because, like anyone, she/he/it starts off as a perfectly reasonable voice, saying things like, “You know, you should probably take a bit of time before sending this out to readers”, or “You know, “it’s okay for now” is a bit of a cop-out”, or “Um, yeah, if you think it’s dumb, it’s probably dumb.”
But then, as I continue to not listen, things begin to escalate. She starts to yell louder, and get ruder, because the inner editor knows where to hit a writer when she’s down. She knows me, she knows my foibles, and she knows my vulnerabilities, and by gum, if I’m not going to listen to her, well, she’ll darn well make me listen!
So, yes -- things escalate, and she gets nastier, and I have to work harder and harder getting her shut her yap. I yell at her. She yells at me. I yell louder. She says, “Oh yeah? Let me show you some yelling!”...and so on. Unfortunately, while all this fighting is going on, the original message, the one of value, gets lost.
What I’ve learned (the hard way) is this: had I only listened to her in the beginning, I would have saved myself all sorts of heartache and headache, because all that yelling in my head is taxing and exhausting and never does me or my inner editor (who, incidentally, is also me) any good.
So now, I try to listen. I don’t always take everything she says as gospel, but I make note and keep it in mind. Besides, she’s not such a bad gal, my inner editor. Really. She just wants to be heard, is all.
Item #3: Write Your Heart Out; Or, Write Your Heart Into Your Writing
In my travels around the internet, I’ve noticed a lot of discussion about market, and writing query letters, and how to get an agent, and what editors want to see, and how to build a brand for yourself. This is all valuable information. Absolutely.
But, while everyone is reading about markets and queries and agents and brands, are they writing? Are they honing their craft? Are they writing the best story they can write, the one that will buck the trends, the one that will be impossible to reject?
Because, no matter how much one knows about all that other stuff, it’s still not writing. Writing is inserting one’s butt into one’s chair and putting in the time crafting and honing and shaping and pruning. Writing is the one element we writers have control over. All the rest? We can educate ourselves about market and trends and what others want, but in the end, that’s out of our hands. What we can control is our work. Our responsibility is to write the best work we can, to mine our hearts and our souls and put words on the page as only we can, and write stories so compelling, so alive, so honest and true, that they steal our breath away, and the breath of others, too. These are the stories I want to read. These are the stories that impossible to reject. When time is precious, spend it here, in these stories, with your craft, with your heart beating in every word.
Writing is hard work. There’s no two ways about it. Embrace it. Make stew with it. Don’t fight with yourself. And make your work shine like only you can.
These things light my way when the path gets dark and murky. I hope they shed a little light on your path, too.