Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Writer has 3 Heads

Or How to be the Worzel Gummidge* of writing.

I am very vehement and opinionated -- we could put a full stop there but let us continue -- about how writers should feel about their work. I think you should love your work, love it now, love it in a year and enjoy reading it again in ten years.

Yes, you might see how you could have done it better, after all you have ten years more experience but you should be able to read it and enjoy it. I do. And I think it comes down to interchangeable heads.

Most people talk about the Writer and Editor heads. But I would also add the Reader head.

Everyone in the writing game will tell you: Don't edit when you're writing. This is excellent advice. When you're writing you should only be wearing your Writer head. If you wear your Editor head as well you'll be forever correcting your work and you'll progress so much slower, it's also confusing. And if you have the Reader head in place you'll be noticing how bad your writing is when it's first draft. Well the first draft of anything is shit as Ernest Hemingway eloquently observed. No reader is going to like it.

So then you get to the editing stage. Again the popular advice is leave your manuscript alone for two weeks to a month. Why do they say that? It's so you have time and space to remove your Writer head in relation to that piece of work, so that you can put your Editor head on properly. If you keep your Writer head on you will be arguing with yourself about whether something needs correcting or changing. The Editor head knows what's wrong. The Writer head does not. (And the Reader head doesn't get a look in for the same reason as before.)

What happens when you get notes from other editors or beta-readers? You put your Writer head back on, and see how you can creatively fix the problems. Sometimes it's obvious, but there are times when it isn't.

One problem writers have is knowing when something is ready. A writer is a creative person and can go on creating and recreating forever. Tweaking and changing. Same with the Editor head you can always make improvements. And that's why you need the Reader head, there must be a point where you can don the Reader head, and go through your work as if someone else, completely separate from you, wrote it. I'm not going to claim it's easy, it needs to be practiced.

And if the Reader head likes it, can enjoy it without running into poor sentence construction or plot holes, then you know it's ready.

As you become more skilled and experienced you will learn to swap heads faster and more completely, which is just as it should be. Cultivate your Reader head. (Possibly by planting it in compost - old Worzel would approve.)

* Worzel Gummidge - a scarecrow character from a series of children's books by Barbara Euphan Todd, and played in the 1979-1981 ITV series by Jon Pertwee (Dr Who) and Una Stubbs (most recently in Sherlock) as Aunt Sally. The character had different heads for different occasions.

Worzel Gummidge, ITV

What's on the turntable? Closer to Your Heart by Clannad from Lore.


Unknown said...

Enjoyed this article - jugging our heads is one of those lesser know writerly problems yet...

40 Something said...

Nicely stated. Never gave it much thought but it makes allot of sense.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

Broadly, I agree, as would Freud and the Gestaltists. Writer and Editor, Dreamer and Critic, Inner Child and Inner Adult, Id and Ego and Superego (which makes three!. Mine are not quite so separated in time, as my Critic does watch over the shoulder of my Child as he has fun writing (and posting inane comments on other people's blogs!) but John Critic still has to take a back seat until the rereading stage. And then it's Child John's turn to politely but firmly defend his dream against John Critic's overediting, with Adult John mediating between the pair, if we want to get more psychological.

Recently I've been thinking about the Reader's Child and Critic and Adult, the Child that sees an airship on the cover and thinks 'COOL!' versus the Critic who warns 'There are no big rigid airships in reality since that unfortunate bonfire in Lakehurst, New Jersey back in 1937', and the Adult Reader who may mediate. Which give a total of SIX persona interacting! Which hurts BOTH my heads.


PS No wonder the Worzel Gummidge make-up line never caught on...