Redrafting Away the Inner Critic
Too often I hear people write something and say, “This is crap.”
How many times do you write something, look at it, and say, “This is awful.”
Well, my response to you is this:
Of course it’s going to be crap – you’ve only just written it!
No one ever writes something that’s brilliant. They rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it to perfection.
So if you write something and think, “Wow, that is bad” – yes it is, but only because you haven’t made it great yet.
Good stories are never written – they are rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. Don’t expect to get it perfect the first time. To make a first attempt at something is to expect to get it wrong. At first, it’s just about getting the pieces there.
In your first draft you are just pouring sand into a sand pit so you can later mould it into sand castles.
When Thomas Edison first tried to create the light bulb he got it wrong – but he didn’t stop and say, “ah well I’m crap.” He changed it and tweaked it and redid it until, after a thousand attempts, he got it right.
So how illogical would it be for him to stop after his first design and criticise himself?
But how do you redraft something from crap to great?
You approach your first draft starting 'big' then gradually 'zooming in.'
Write this without reading it back or changing anything.
If you think of something that needs to be changed as you write it, note it down on a pad next to your laptop and go back to it in a later draft. Whatever happens, do not go back over it until the first draft is done.
The first draft is just about bursting your ideas onto the page.
Second – Third Draft
Like I said, start big and zoom in – so here you need to concentrate on the novel's structure. Make a list of every chapter in your book with a sentence of what happens. Then, look at that list, and decide whether you need to move any chapters around, or add any new chapters, or even take any away.
Usually, this will involve me adding a few more chapters that I think would help. Or, if the book's not yet long enough, adding another sub-plot.
Now we get a little closer. Look at the way your chapters are laid out – are they long/short enough? Do you need to section the book into parts? Do you need to insert a ‘then’ and ‘now’ section in a non-linear story – something I do often with The Sensitives series.
Usually this draft will be me extending chapters. In my first draft, I write the gist of some chapters then move onto the next. This means I'll have some chapters that last two pages, and I generally try to make a chapter four pages at a minimum – so I add more prose to it.
Now we zoom right in further and we look at the language. Go through every sentence and check its value. Are you using the right words? Right sentence lengths? Right perspective? Using the best language devices? Have you gotten rid of all clichés?
Read the prose out loud, and this will help you.
This is the point at which you take the awful words you wrote in the first draft and start to mould them into something readable.
At this point it is important for you to get feedback. Whether from an editor, friend or partner – you need someone who will be brutal and honest.
After this, you organise their feedback into a list of ‘TODO’ points - things you now need to do. Try and separate this into things you need to amend in terms of the structure, and things you need to edit in terms of the prose.
Now you start over again, going big and zooming in.
Make any changes to structure from the feedback, just as you did in the second-third draft.
Make changes to prose, just as your did in the fifth draft. Read through aloud and tweak your sentences until you are happy with them. Think carefully about what you are trying to say in each paragraph.
This is a good point to add some originality to your writing as well. Some good advice I received was to try and describe something in a way it's never been described before. Obviously, you can't do this in every sentence because it gets tedious - but try and think of ways you can describe something that is unique.
For example, imagine you have an unsteady table. Your original draft may describe it as "unbalanced, slanted table" - why not think of a different way to describe this? Such as "the table was like an old man, limping and leant to the side, hateful toward anyone that comes near."
Now it's time to send it to a copy-editor or proof-reader.
Make your final changes to grammar based on your copy-editor/proofreader's feedback.
See how much work there is?
And, after seeing how much work there is, do you see how illogical it is to criticise everything you write instead of seeing it as something you can develop?
Of course you aren't going to write a masterpiece in your first draft, or even the next few drafts after that - because writing isn't something that's perfect the first time. It takes a whole process of crafting it.
Your inner critic comes from a place that doesn’t realise a piece of writing isn’t something you naturally do – it is something you create over a process.
Once you realise that and embrace the process, you will realise that an inner critic has no use.
Because you haven’t got it wrong – you are just in the process of getting it right.