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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Myths and Legends.

How much of what we know, or think we know about writing is down to a strange communal memory. Somewhere way back in the mists of time, or just a couple of years ago it was said that such and such was true, maybe.

The strongest myth is that self-published books are by default of inferior quality to traditionally published. That may not be a given truth anymore, Yvonne Hertzberger made a comment to a blog post on Indies Unlimited that the standards of traditional publishers are falling, and now expect authors to arrange their own editing and proofing. Leading to a decline in standards and the likelihood of sub-par volumes hitting the bookstore shelves.

There are three particular strands that intrigue me; the first draft is always rubbish; the first book is always bad and that the longer you spend on a book the better it is.

Taking the last first; it is true that Iceline went to publish ten years after I sat down to write, so I could say that I spent ten years working on it. Sorry, honesty outbreak coming up; nothing like that;  a year, maybe a year and a half actually working on the manuscript, editing and proof reading, then it sat on file for a couple of years before I had another look at it.

Working in a literary environment it is easy to take things literally, we forget that we also spend our time making it up, fiction is not lying it's more about being  creative with the truth.

By all means spend the time polishing but bringing out the best needs one crucial piece of knowledge; knowing when to stop. It is as easy to under polish as it is to over polish. Taking  a moment to stand back, or put the manuscript back in the file may be the moment that reveals the polish is at its best, the lustre at its most luminous.

The first draft is always rubbish, sorry, that's rubbish. We all have a natural talent for storytelling, it is a basic human trait, the variation comes with the degree and the ability to entertain that comes with it. Think about your favourite subject, how, long can you talk about it for? Five, ten, fifteen minutes, half an hour or can you rabbit for hours; long beyond the point where you're listener has crawled into a room somewhere in the back of the mind until it blows over.

That story is always a good one, thinking as you go and supplying the details as the story unfolds: now apply that to your first draft. The beauty of NaNoWriMo for me is the release of the mental brakes and the constant looming of the deadline versus the word count forces me to think on my feet and allow the story to develop a natural flow, often surprising myself in the process.

Writers talk about the characters taking over, of pushing the story in a way not envisaged at the planning stage. Who are they, where do they come from, but how often do we ask where are they going. Once they are released into our conscious world, where might they go from here?

With an inherent ability for crafting a fascinating tale on the go, why should we ever accept that our first draft is rubbish. There is a good solid argument for making the first draft the best you can; it reduces the amount of subsequent  work required to achieve the desired level of polish.

The first book is always a bad one, OK, if we accept that the first draft is bad (No!) then the first draft of the first book must need work far beyond our capabilities to make the grade, whatever that or the grade setter might be! Sorry guys, I don't buy it!

Are any of these myths true? Do they hold a truth within them, or are they simply retold stories about how the odds are stacked against the independent and self published. Fairy tales to frighten the children and make them behave, to follow tradition blindly or the bogeyman will get you!

So what are your myths; the odd stories that tap into your psyche when you switch on and attack the keyboard?

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