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  1. #1
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    Hat Trick, Writer Style

    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. #2
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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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. #3
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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. #4
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E_Moon
    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.
    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. #5
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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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. #6
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    Agreed. (Wow--just got told my response was too short--this should fix it.)

  7. #7
    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. #8
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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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. #9
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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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. #10
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    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.
    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.

    And then there's Wrede's Inner Weasel, which we've talked about here sometimes.
    Ah, the inner weasel. It's always hunting season on the inner weasel. heh

  11. #11
    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. #12
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    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.
    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. #13
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS View Post
    That would be like me trying to separate chewing from swallowing for the eating process. Not a good thing to try.
    Uh, actually, most people do separate chewing and swallowing!

    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS View Post
    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.
    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. #14
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    Uh, actually, most people do separate chewing and swallowing!
    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!


    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.
    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. #15
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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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.

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