I like to think about writing in the same way as another creative pursuit I love, cooking. Cooking has plenty of tips and rules. How many different ‘ultimate recipes’ have you seen for basics like a sponge cake, Yorkshire pudding, shepherd’s pie? Each one very different from the last.
Leila Aboulela, (born in Cairo and grew up in Khartoum. Two of her novels have been longlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize) said, ‘Put your work aside for a time in order to gain some distance and then read it again. You are very likely to find that it needs changes in some places, edits in others, or certain sections have to be further developed. Draft and re-draft. Give this editorial phase time effort and patience.’
While writing Best Friends Perfect, at first, I tried to edit as I was writing. This didn’t work for me. I found myself conflicted between writing and editing:
- After editing a section, I returned to writing and completely forgot where the story was going
- After editing, I found it hard to just write, and found myself micro editing rather than getting words on the page
- While editing if I was a bit stuck, I’d just nip to the end of document and start writing, completely abandoning the edit, and having to work out what I was trying to fix the next time I returned to that (still unresolved) bit of editing
- In short it was a mess
It was like starting to make a cake, leaving to buy the sugar, returning to continue whisking, then stopping to buy the grease proof paper, then returning to the cake mix.
For the second book, I did the vomit-words-on-the-page school of first drafts. No going back, no checking if I’d changed the name of the MC’s mum, what colour hair the boyfriend had, just on and on and on. Like a road trip, no stopping for detours.
This allowed me to stop thinking about it as ‘my story’ and instead, think about it as a reader would – that’s confusing, why would that character do that, where did the dog go from chapter 3...
The time between the two different stages, gave my brain chance to put itself into a different gear, a different mode, and to work much better at each of the two different stages.
Do you edit as you write, write as you edit, mixing it up as you go? Or do you like to separate the two, like I now do? What’s the best writing rule you’ve heard or read about?
Until next time