Hat Trick, Writer Style

Discussion in 'Writing' started by E_Moon, Jan 4, 2010.

  1. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Readers need only a Reader Hat. Editors need a Reader Hat and an Editor Hat. Writers need a Reader Hat, an Editor Hat, and a Writer Hat...and some knowhow as well: what each hat is best for, and when to change them.

    Writers need a Reader Hat because it's by reading (and listening to stories) that we learn how to write stories. Good readers have a head start on becoming good writers...readers who enjoy a lot of different kinds of fiction know from experience what makes a story interesting/exciting/attention-grabbing to readers. With a Reader Hat on, writers can experience their work as readers do, and see if it provides the experience they wanted to give.

    They need an Editor Hat because no writing is perfect straight out of a writer's head. Some of the things an Editor Hat points out are not directly related to reader satisfaction, but most are related to at least some readers' satisfaction. The Editor Hat doesn't just find problems/errors/clumsiness in the work, though...it analyzes and problem-solves, helping writers fix whatever problems it finds in the most efficient and effective way.

    And of course they need a Writer Hat for the actual writing--and the Writer Hat has to fit comfortably and stylishly (defined by that writer) so that the writer can wear it all day every day for months on end. The Writer Hat does more than cover the hours spend writing...it's what notices bits of "business" and dialogue and scenery and everything else a writer needs to put into a book. The Writer Hat is a vampire's hat, a scavenger's hat, an eavesdropper's hat, always out to steal bits of life and tuck them away for later use.

    Most writers should wear the Writer Hat most of the time they're not reading someone else's work or editing their own. But when reading, they should hang up the Writer Hat and put on the Reader Hat. Why? Otherwise they'll be trying to re-write the other writer's work, or comparing it to their own (to their despair or their gloating satisfaction: neither is healthy.)

    Occasionally, it's worthwhile to read with the Editor Hat on--to analyze, for instance, how a better writer accomplishes a technical feat that the writer is struggling with. That's like watching a great athlete or artist to figure out how to do that jump or make that curved stroke with the brush. But mostly, when reading, wear the Reader Hat.

    The Editor Hat goes on only when analyzing a work. We're taught to use the Editor Hat (or something like it) in school, when reading and analyzing the texts we're handed, so the Editor Hat tries to leap off its peg and onto the writer's head at times when it shouldn't be worn...take it off and put it back. With the Editor Hat on, its negative approach to text (disassembling it, analyzing it, noting problems with it) overshadows its positive possibilities (solving those problems it found) unless the writer is very firm with it.

    Only rarely can (or should) writers try to wear two hats at once, and the most dangerous combination is the Editor Hat with the Writer Hat. With experience, it's possible (sometimes, for short periods) to hold both goals in mind during a revision--switching sides of the head, as it were--to notice and fix problems in one pass. Works pretty easily for one-word or two-word fixes, and becomes progressively more difficult as the text to be analyzed and re-written gets longer. It's best, if the revision requires rewriting more than a paragraph, to mark the manuscript with the Editor Hat on, then take it off, hang it up, jam the Writer Hat down over both ears, and do the rewrite with only the Writer Hat. It may take a coffee break (or chocolate break, or short walk) to ensure that the Editor Hat doesn't contaminate the Writer Hat's ability to write the new stuff.

    Just came from a weekend of struggling with this very problem.
     
  2. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I find my editing is stronger than my writing, by a slight. I find once I go back and read what I've written, I can really make it stronger. The hardest part is getting it out there on the digital page.
     
  3. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    I think most of us, because of our education, have a stronger Editor hat. We need it, but we need it under control so it doesn't interfere with that primary creation.
     
  4. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    Quite. I did that today. Then my writer's hat, once again, failed to follow the plan. Some things are taken care of, but not what I really wanted to do. It's infuriating. I need more setting reference. Grrr!

    Another go. I've already got the mark up. Hopefully...
     
  5. Jon Sprunk

    Jon Sprunk Book of the Black Earth

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    It's this juggling of hats that makes writing so enjoyable when everything is going right, and so dreadful when they aren't.
     
  6. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Agreed. (Wow--just got told my response was too short--this should fix it.)
     
  7. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    My editor hat seldom leaps onto my head when I'm reading.

    No. Its preferred territory is the movie theater. Seriously. I find it really hard to watch a movie without analysing the plot. Which, as I have no inclination to become a scriptwriter, is odd.
     
  8. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I'm allergic to the word "should" when it comes to writing. Obviously, a writer should be a writer. That's pretty much a given, but the rest is... well, a YMMV kind of thing.

    Some people simply can't edit themselves. I can, mostly, but I also have friends who are better editors and I get them to help or run things by them as needed. I also have used beta readers that way.

    As for the reader's hat, well, that's kinda like saying I should breathe and eat, so it's not worth even thinking about, for me.

    Given the above, I'll add that I'm a rolling reviser -- someone explained what I do in that way, and I like the sound of it. Basically, I edit as I go, so the editor and writer hats are really different sides of the same hat.

    Everyone is going to have an optimal way of working. The key is to find that optimal way for a given project. IMO, of course. :)
     
  9. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    And I always refer to your process, Shelly, on this issue when it comes up, because there is so much variation of writing processes. Nonetheless, we get a lot of new writers coming into the forums who struggle with writing because they keep putting the Editor Hat on their head, and it paralyzes them. The Editor Hat is after all what we're taught to use the most in school. Some people are able to detach it from the Writer Hat and use them in conjunction. I do probably half Editor Hat revision and half just leave it a mess because of my editing background. But a lot of others have more trouble with it. I think those writers who aren't outline writers to start with probably have the most difficulty, because they really need to leave the Editor Hat off for as long as possible.

    And then there's Wrede's Inner Weasel, which we've talked about here sometimes.
     
  10. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    Right. That was me before I found the AOL Writers boards, and you and Patricia Wrede whose wise advice helped more than you can know. It freed me from that paralysis. That's also when I realized I really don't have to outline, which was great news because I can't do it before I write it. I have to write the story so I'll know what to put in an outline. ;)

    So, I'm always happy to be a contrary example for the "rules" of writing. :)

    Ah, the inner weasel. It's always hunting season on the inner weasel. heh
     
  11. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Research in creativity suggests that it is good practice to separate the creation process from the criticism process. Just how to do that, and when, depends a lot on the individual artist. I imagine that we get better with practice.

    What works for me nowadays is to finish a paragraph or three before I worry about typos and mis-spellings. But if I leave those fixes too long I become itchy and I can't write much further without fixing them.

    Other fixes I can leave alone longer. I just finished a scene where I left underlines for the names of a couple of secondary characters. Then I got up and walked onto the balcony to enjoy the weather and an iced drink. After the break I read the scene all the way through, fixing low- to mid-level mistakes as I went.

    Of course what specific tactics works for one writer may not for another. But the general practice of leaving some breathing room between creation and criticism probably works for many more than specific practices.
     
  12. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    That would be like me trying to separate chewing from swallowing for the eating process. Not a good thing to try. ;)

    The critical process is part of my writing process. I long ago tamed my inner weasel so it only bugs me when I'm at my strongest to resist. But I need to review and revise and correct before moving on. It's part of how I assimilate the words/scenes I've written and therefore, contributes to the words/scenes that follow.

    BTW, I've trained myself over the years to correct most typos as I type them. It's part of my typing process. And my spelling is good enough that I don't have to correct more than a word or two in that regard. I thank my English teachers for that.
     
  13. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Uh, actually, most people do separate chewing and swallowing!

    You ALWAYS combine creation and criticism? NEVER finish a story and days or months later think, perhaps, "Oh, I could rewrite this beginning"?

    I've heard that some of the most successful authors always produce a perfect product the first time around. If it works for you, great.

    Though I do wonder, "How's that working out for you?" Do you have some stories or books out there as an indication this process works? In this special circumstance, with all readers of this forum clamoring for an answer to this question, you could toot your horn in this forum and get away with it.
     
  14. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I said I can't separate them as part of the eating process, but yeah, I swallow the most chewed food as I chew the newer food to enter my mouth!


    Criticism for me is part of Creation. I revise as I write. I can type a word, know as soon as it's typed that it's the wrong word, backspace it out of existence and try another word before typing the next word.

    I do revise again after I write, when the story's finished, so yes, sometimes revising is separate from writing, but writing is not separate from revising/editing. I'm a rolling reviser, as someone once labeled me. I've rewritten parts of sentences 2-3 times as I write them. The wording has to be right for that moment before I can move on.

    Sure, that doesn't mean I can't improve it later, but nothing is ever perfect and I know that at some point, I have to be satisfied and declare something finished. But there's never a time during the actual writing that I'm not subconsciously critting what I wrote and adjusting til things sound right.
     
  15. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    What works about Shelly's process is that she moves on as and after she revises. But it's unusual and a lot of other writers don't do well with rolling revision because that Editor Hat gets stuck and kicks off the Writer Hat.
     
  16. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I meant to answer this and forgot. I have a 110,000 word ms I've been revising. It's been beta read by a half dozen people and I'm using their comments to see how I can improve it prior to polishing and submitting to publishers. I've been working on it for a number of years because I can't write every day. I have my reasons and they aren't relevant. I then needed to wait for the beta readers to finish and I would've gotten the book done last year except I spent 8 months recovering from a nasty bacterial infection that sapped all my energy. Now, I'm back at it, so I hope to have it done by May or June.

    Will it get sold? Who knows? But it's a story 6 people have liked, overall, and I'm very proud of it.

    BTW, I wrote and published fanfic for 15 years (10 volumes of one zine and 10 of another), then wrote and published original spy fiction (written interactively with friends) for the next dozen years and counting (thousands of pages). Those stories are a bit indulgent with plenty of gratuitous sex and gratuitous violence. The stories are published under my legal name (zine style photocopies) and I don't use my legal name in online forums other than Facebook. It's a privacy thing.

    Also, I lost 10 years in my attempts to go pro, back in the late-'80s to early-'90s because of bad advice I stupidly tried to follow that ended up discouraging me because I couldn't write the "right" way. I've mentioned this in earlier posts and it's why I get adamant about the 9 and 60 ways of writing.
     
  17. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I've thought about this a lot because I know that so many people can't do it and the Inner Weasel gets the better of them. I think the reason it works so well for me is because I am instinctual for both writing and revising and the writing part of my brain keeps shoving the editing part aside with "enough with that, I've got more to tell her." My characters are so alive, they keep talking to me, usually at night in bed, or in the shower, or while I'm commuting to and from work and I can't wait to start writing the next scene, at which point, the editor part engages, too. Next scene, it all starts over again.

    Bottom line, having something I feel compelled to write keeps me from getting stuck with that editor hat on.
     
  18. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    That's pretty much me, too. I'm a very slow writer because of that. I've seen manuscripts that had:

    text text text [description in square brackets] text text text [alternative1/alternative2] text text....​

    That would be my ideal process if it wouldn't bug some aesthetic faculty within me to distraction. I need my text to look neat.
     
  19. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I'm fairly slow, but that's because I don't write every day. I need large chunks of time because I need to reread/revise the previous day's writing, then I start composing and I like to get into a groove where I can go for hours on end. I've done 8 or 9 hours at a time, but I can't do that nights after work. So I binge write. :)

    I've gotten fairly fast with the edit as I go. Some scenes take more time than others. Some get layered, where I do a quick draft of mostly dialogue because I can hear it in my head and need to get it down fast, then I go right back and layer in descriptions, etc. Other scenes get the whole thing written at once: dialogue, descriptions, action, etc. Every scene has its own requirements.

    I could never leave placeholders, at least not for more than it would take me to look up the word or detail I need. I'll stop writing to look something up.
     
  20. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    I was thinking words-per-minute slow, rather than project slow. I take that from online comments. People say they write for twenty minutes a time. If I did that, I'd have about two to three paragraphs (on a good day). I need to a write a scene in one go, and I won't start writing if I don't at least have a guaranteed 2 hours. (I once got interrupted by a telephone call; had to scrap the scene and start from scratch as I'd lost the thread.)

    I make up for project speed by needing less editing than others. (Again, judging by online-comments.) That is for short fiction, though. I'm on my first novel, and that requires a lot of editing. Mostly because the thing is so darn complex.

    Things like description/setting I do leave for edits, especially for longer works (longer short stories, the novel). That's because the setting emerges through writing. Later scenes always tend to be more specific, and thus if I go back after I finished it all, I have a better intuitive idea.

    I can never hear things in my head. I have to formulate it consciously in my head, and I usually go through alternatives, either before I write it down (in tricky situations), or while type-deleting (usualy approach).

    Similarly, I don't see things in my mind, unless I make a conscious effort of visualising them, but that's a non-verbal situation - which means I'm not to good writing, then.

    Dialogue comes easiest. That's why some of my early drafts read almost like plays.

    Neither could I. I like the concept, and I'd like to be able to do that, but it doesn't work. I, too, interrupt writing, sometimes to look up a word, sometimes to look at related pictures, or to figure out some fact-relationships. That's because I know best what sort of information I need while I'm writing.