A Short Interlude …

Good, old fashioned work. Perfect pencil and proofs!

Good, old fashioned work. Perfect pencil and proofs!

Today I managed to really upset another writer. Entirely accidentally. In fact, going through the twitter messages, I still don’t quite see where I managed to hit her somewhere painful, but there you go.

I guess that all writers can tend to have soft parts that bruise too easily – but if that’s going to get you angry, you shouldn’t be a writer. After all, writing as a process means setting out in detail intimate ideas, thoughts and feelings, and if you feel battered by seeing your work commented on, you’re really in the wrong business.

The discussion I (thought I) was having with the other writer was about how we work.

My correspondent commented that she always worked through each paragraph carefully. Well yes, so do we all. She went on to say that with her books, she always sent them out to friends and writers for their critiques.

I pointed out that with my books I tend to work on them for what seems like an eternity, and when I’m happy with them, I send them off to the editor and agent for their criticism. They are, after all, the professionals.

This got her goat – big time. I was told off for making comments on her work and her way of working (no. I was engaging with her in a discussion, I thought), and she then went thermo-nuclear with suggestions that if I wanted to discuss how long we’d been writing etc … well, you can see it all on Twitter, if your life is boring enough today.

The latest proofs done. Back to trying to write again!

The latest proofs done. Back to trying to write again!

What I would just like to say is, writing is not a precious art form. It’s work. I work one way: I plan and plot, I write, I edit (much of the time as I go along), and then edit again on full print outs. Only when I’m happy with the book do I send it off to the editor and agent.

Other people work differently. I know authors who came up, unlike me, from writing groups. They tend to circulate their work amongst friends and writers. One classic example is my friend Chris Samson, who always favours some of his friends with copies before he sends  his work off to the publisher. That’s fine. It works for Chris. It wouldn’t for me, for several reasons. It doesn’t mean I look down on him.

I can’t. He’s a damn sight taller than me for a start.

However, the other thing is, I don’t think it is the job of my friends, family, or other writers, to read my work until it’s been edited and is almost ready to go to print. Why on earth would I push my work in front of someone before it’s been edited? That, to me, seems damn cheeky. I wouldn’t want other people to thrust uncopyedited manuscripts in front of me. I don’t have time to read for pleasure just now, let alone doing free editorial work for other writers.

That’s my view. And it is only my view.

The proofs so far this year. Is it any wonder my eyesight's fading along with my brain?

The proofs so far this year. Is it any wonder my eyesight’s fading along with my brain?

All writers work in their own sweet way. In fact all of us, over time, will change how we work. I used to work from a strict plan and timeline. I would set out an entire plot on A4 sheets of paper sellotaped together to create a flow chart. Do I do that now? No, of course not. Now I scribble notes daily, consider themes and let ideas fester for a while. Then, when it’s all loosely sorted in my head, I start to write. Once or twice I’ve started from the last scene, and gone back and written the story after. Sometimes I’ve begun in the middle, mostly I start at the beginning. I think I have a pretty sequential approach to story-telling.

Is this right for everyone? No.

Does that mean someone can tell me I’m wrong to work this way? Of course not!

Creative people, and writers are all creative, have to figure out the best way for each of them to work. If you want to write, do it the way that suits you best. If you want to write paragraphs and put each in front of your wife, then do so (mine would pull her hair out); if you want to write the entire book and get it into the best form you can and then send it to an agent, do that!

No one can prescribe for you how to write any more than they can prescribe what you should write. Writers know instinctively what is good or bad, or they shouldn’t be writers.

And please, if another writer tells you how they work, don’t think it’s criticism. They may just be trying to engage you in conversation!

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Comments
17 Responses to “A Short Interlude …”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Unfortunately some people are extremely thin skinned Writterly. ;)

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  2. Couldn’t agree more, Michael. Frankly I get quite cross when people say that either I or Marcia “do things the wrong way”. There is no right way or wrong way – if the books you write find a publisher and a readership you are getting it right: if not probably not.

    Of one thing alone am I certain. Talent plays an important part in writing (especially for those who can be described as “creative writing” but even then the part talent plays is pretty small (in single figures in percentage terms). The rest is application.

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    • Of course there can’t be a right way and a wrong way. If there was a right way, all those who studied writing would end up as multi-millionaires, wouldn’t they? Everyone has to write in the way that best suits them. What surprised me was how quickly a chat about writing turned into a very bitter series of responses to what I thought were conciliatory remarks – but no telling whether she had already had a bad day or something. Happens to the best of us, after all (*he said, looking at the bill for the new blasted brakes on the car*)

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  3. Agreed, Mike. To each their own, although you and I work in much the same way. I’ve never considered letting another writer look at a raw ms. Why would I? It’s my work, mine alone.

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    • Precisely my thought. My own view is, I don’t need to have someone else validate my work. If I think it’s ready, it’s ready! I think you and I know when our stuff is ready to go.

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  4. James Krauss says:

    Michael I agree with you very much and yes writing is WORK. I am a teacher (technology, and many more subjects) but I am not a professional writer. Whenever I do write it is work for and I spend hours over what I have written to make sure it is saying what I want it to say. I had a professor one time tell me that my writing problem is that I write like I speak. Well, maybe! I always thought that writing is suppose to be like you have the reader right there, talking to him or her. That is most likely why I am not a professional writer!

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    • I think your attitude would make you a brilliant writer, personally. Professors and academics can fool themselves into thinking that they have a monopoly on good writing, and successfully put off many students, I suspect. The main thing with writing is, knowing your subject, and explaining it simply and with concise language. Personally I think my own style is very much colloquial like you – but I haven’t found that a burden!

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  5. Old Trooper says:

    Mike, I am going back to the beginning “Today I managed to really upset another writer. Entirely accidentally. In fact, going through the twitter …” I think it was Phormio the Greek who a long time ago said words that today would read something like this in the vernacular, ‘No matter how you write it / say it, someone is going to take offense to your words.’ I find it true as I have seen it happen over and over again for years especially in this overly electronic age (some recent studies say that places like Facebook, etc. have potential adverse psychological effects on users and that users should be warned). I remember what were called “flame wars” on various sites that got really ugly. The “wars” (even those by e-mail) were often based upon a misunderstanding and went completely out of control from there. Unfortunately, people tend to apply things like tone as if they were in an actual conversation face to face. Even then, a great deal of problems would be avoided if people sought ‘consensual validation’ before they ‘blew a fuse’ over a perceived slight. In other words, “I think I heard you say such and such. Is that what you meant?” That would be followed by an explanation of what you meant which may have been completely different from what the listener / reader may have thought they understood. Your ‘friend’ may have been on a ‘short fuse’ today to begin with for whatever reason. You may have innocently given her an excuse to ‘blow a fuse’ so that she could have a little diatribe (rant). I can’t say if it helped her or not (likely not) and it would seem that it did not do you much good (and more than take up your time to write the above explanation of things). I hope that the other writer follows your ‘writerlywitter’ to see this and perhaps reconsiders her position. BTW, was it a so called “Freudian Slip” when you said “another” rather than ‘upset a fellow writer?’ ;-) I really don’t think that you habitually upset writers — “I managed to upset another writer.” I hope that you and the other writer have a better day!

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    • Yes, it was one of those daft misunderstandings, I think. She thought I was butting in, while I thought I was adding to a conversation (!). All sorted and still friends, but I’ll be more careful in future!

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      • Old Trooper says:

        Glad to hear that all is well … for now ;-) I am still trying to learn how not to call some so called reviewer ‘idiots’ (“I didn’t like how it was wrapped – 1 star”) or ‘spoilers’ (2 or more pages of synopsis rather than review telling the potential reader, “Who did it,” so to spoil the read and make them feel like ‘writers’).

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      • Many thanks, OT. I find it’s good to use that word sparingly – no matter how often it is deserved!

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      • Old Trooper says:

        It can be difficult but I persevere. It is one reason that I tend to no longer (rarely) look at comments at the end of news stories to include on FB. It seems that no matter if people call themselves liberal, conservative, etc. that they can still say some of the most meaningless but vituperous things, some pretty vile things that do not support a position. It just becomes pejorative diatribes, one after the other, that only serve to foment anger and division — idiot stuff. So, I now try to avoid the angst caused by calling someone an idiot even if deserved.

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  6. Completely agree, Mike. We all have our own ways of working. One of the ‘rules’ I keep seeing is ‘never show your work to a partner/parent/other loved one who will only tell you how wonderful it is’. Well, I break that rule every time I write. My husband is the second harshest critic I know (and given your links with a certain University, you can probably guess who was the harshest!) and his feedback is invaluable to me. But I know that wouldn’t suit everybody.

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    • Oh boy. Now I’m thinking of all the lecturers and wondering…

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    • Old Trooper says:

      I know that some don’t take constructive criticism well especially proof editors. I gave it up with one group because they invariably took offense despite their words to the contrary (faces and the observations and ears of others are telling). I do mean more than just typos, i.e. incorrect statements, poor analogies and so forth that one had the proof of regarding the academic works. I even recall a short item where four people had looked at it but missed a glaring error. They knew what was supposed to be written so their minds eye saw that and not what was actually there. They were more accepting than others who took offense at having errors (that made a difference) in academic works pointed out. I should mention that I have read a 190 year old work that had no typos. It was a translation from from the Latin to English and was quite good. I only had a problem with the translators notes that were most often an argument against the original authors views. I agreed with the author but not so much with the translator. I can’t, however, discuss the matter with him.

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