It’s good to write badly. Baldly, in my case.
Back in the noisy days of typewriters I was indebted to a strip of white tape that I placed on the paper to strike out mistakes. This was replaced in time by liquid paper. Nowadays the computer Delete key is my friend. Though I enjoy drafting my ideas out on sticky post-it sheets, rearranging good ones and throwing away the not-so-good.
Writers produce their best work when they jettison unnecessary words, characters, narratives and ideas. I prefer to be ruthless and self-edit.
Working with an Editor is useful but
can be painful too, reminding me of my TV script writing days where directors and producers would wreak havoc with a careful crafted submission. In TV, the editing process is not over until the final cut. Most of the writer’s vision is left on the cutting room floor, or in a computer’s trash bin.
The best publishers use Editors who work alongside writers to eliminate excess bloat – creating a flowing narrative that engages the reader. Bad ones take over – and might as well have written the piece themselves.
So I find it is in my best interest to get a story written and self-edited to a level where I feel bold enough to let it go. If it’s strong enough it’ll fly. If not, it will
probably still benefit from a good kicking about.
tend to write more than will see the light of day – best to have too much than too little. Writers need time to write themselves into a state of consistency. So there is always plenty of flab to cut out.
Giving birth to ideas allows them to take their chances. Sometimes it takes years for them to reach their potential. I once wrote ‘Kenny’ – a play about kids leaving a Care Home. It sat in a drawer for two years until it was dusted off, re-edited and sent to the BBC for their 1991 Young Radio Playwrights Festival. Happily, it became one of the winning entries and kickstarted my writing career.
It helps to write with no fear
for half an hour or so. Then have a cup of tea or walk the dog, returning fresh to the work. Skim it and highlight the good sections and strike through the rest. Save the draft. Now delete the dross and save again. Re-read and tinker with any gleaming nuggets you have left.
Now for the hard bit. Look at the work as a whole and strike through anything that doesn’t fit. It may be your best line ever, but if it shouldn’t be there then it has to go. I find this tough. Very tough when I am writing short narratives for children’s picture books. Every word counts. If a word or sentence is out of place, out it goes.
Stephen King has this advice – ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.’
Bernard Hepton, a great actor and a lovely bloke, once narrated ‘Stranger In The Home’ – my BBC Radio 4 monologue. Prior to the recording day, we were discussing a certain line – one that I considered to be of great emotional importance for his character.
‘I think I’ll just cut it out,’ he said softly. I asked how he would get the emotion across using the other, more mundane, lines…
‘It’s called acting, darling.’
Bernard gave my play more space – and that gave it greater emotional impact. What is left out is as important as what is left in.
This is true for actors, writers, musicians…dustmen.
A final piece of advice from Stephen King – ‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.’
That’s what good writing hinges on…