Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Do You Know If You're a Writer?

Scott D. Parker

Am you a writer or merely a reader?

Do you ever have doubts about your writing? I have them all the time, and those doubts hinder my process as a writer. In fact, they get to looming so large that the doubts themselves begin to overshadow the actual produced-writing output. That's where I have been for some time, unfortunately. It's gotten so bad that I missed a great opportunity, two, in fact, and am regretting it.

Writers and how-to books all pretty much say the same thing: the only way to overcome doubts on your writing is to write. No matter how small or how bad, the mere act of writing will win out. I don't know about y'all, but when I'm in this doubt valley, nothing seems to go right. To use the old analogy, even one candle can make some of the darkness disappear. And, a few years ago, when I was blogging on a near daily basis and writing prose every day, I had a virtual bonfire going. The darkness was blasted by the bright light of my constant output. But, as time wore on, as life intruded and I didn't give my writing life its due, the fire started to ebb. More and more, each day I didn't write, the fire dwindled until I was left, frankly, with only a small candle, barely keeping me from total darkness. And, in the writing world, what amounts to a little candle more often than not for me proves futile.

I've been reading a lot, so I'm never far away from books, but my writing life has suffered. I'll readily admit that the perfectionist streak in me is a huge culprit. I've had writing sessions in the past where the tale I produced in one sitting went on to publication or won awards. I say that not to boast, but to indicate where I'm coming from. If I can do that, the doubting part of my brain says to me, then all material in one sitting should be that way. Right?


I've been working on a collaborative story for awhile now with a fellow author. We've gone back and forth, draft after draft, honing and fine tuning. When I had delivered my last comments, I thought the story good enough. I considered the story publishable and thought it should be submitted. My co-author thought otherwise, and enlisted the help of an outside reviewer. A week or so ago, I received the marked-up draft of the story from the outside reviewer as well as the four-page list of additional comments. Four pages of additional comments, mind you, on a story I considered okay, ready to be let loose on the world.

Man, was I wrong. Again.

In reviewing the comments and suggestions, things that I took for granted were exposed. Turns of phrase that I thought pretty clever were proven to be corny and deleted. Logic flow, something I considered, um, logical, proved illogical. In short, the story that I had considered good enough (key phrase there) to be submitted was, in fact, not.

And the doubts, those black-shadowed things that ooze and creep upon you, got that much closer to extinguishing the small candle I was barely keep alight. Had the story been one where only I was the author, I might have just chalked it up to another reason why I should just stick to reading and not bother writing.

But I wasn't the sole author of the tale. I had a co-author who needed my help to complete our joint venture. And he assigned it to me. So, like it or not, I had to make the corrections. So, I started to do so, and I made an on-the-spot decision that has, so far, proved crucial. Instead of merely accepting the changes and adding/subtracting new material, I opened a blank file and started re-typing the entire story. In this way, much like when I used to write longhand and keyed in the words to the computer, I was able to accomplish two things. One, make easier the decisions suggested by the outside reviewer. And, truth be told, I've not accepted them all, but their mere presence has given me room to think and to expand the paragraphs where the reviewer indicated. More importantly, however, for me, is the process of typing in the words. The rhythm of typing, the clickedy-clack of the keys being struck is hypnotic, and it's been too long since I've heard those sounds. Now, granted, I am learning to dictate my material, but nothing beats the sounds of a keyboard being struck. When I'm going and my fingers are flying, I can make those storytelling decisions much easier than were I merely accepting the changes. It's a little like reading a story aloud, which I do for every tale I write. By retyping the words or reading them aloud, I'm able to pick up the flow better, and the story is better as a result.

This thing I'm doing now--I'm working through the entire draft and I'm not yet finished--is working. It is reminding me of the *process* of writing that, frankly, I let slide and fall by the wayside. This comes not as a revelation to most of y'all--and I've known it all along, I've just ignored it. Not everything I write in one sitting is good enough to be put out there. Not everything I spend seven drafts on is good enough for publication. Like it or not, there's a lot of stuff I write that will only have an audience of one…and I've already read it.

But the action of this particular revision and this particular style of revision has reminded me of something. I am a writer, and not merely a reader. I am a creator of stories, be they fiction or non-fiction. I am made that way, and it's been a real pleasure to be reminded of that fact.

That sound you hear? It's the sound of a match being struck on the matchbox and the flame igniting. Now, there are two candles, and the darkness ebbed just a little bit more.

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