If we edit and criticise what we write, as we write it, how can our words flow? And if the words don’t flow, how good is our writing going to be?
I’m a trained touch typist, and there are times when the words on the page I’ve just written don’t have a single error.
That means the words aren’t flowing. When I’m away with the fairies and my muse is in charge, my typing is so full of mistakes it looks like the cat’s taken over the keyboard.
A neuroscientist might be able to explain this. I suspect my brain switches over from the thinking part to the imagining part, and co-ordination and control of my fingers belong to the thinking part.
So I welcome a page of typos, it tells me I’ve been writing, not typing. Mind you, the well-typed stuff isn’t awful. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and a lot more, I know what I’m doing. Yet it lacks sparkle, the story doesn’t fly, I’m never pleased with it.
Good enough is not good enough.
When I’m thinking-typing, my internal editor is definitely in charge. In the shape of black Snarker, sitting on my shoulder, peering at the screen. He (Snarker has an alto voice, but he’s masculine all right) starts off in helpful mode:
– Oops, spelling mistake there. Go back and correct it. What do you mean, it doesn’t matter now? Spelling is really important, you have to get it right.
– I can do it later, go away, you’re interrupting.
– Do it now. Now, now, NOW. (Snarker’s beginning to raise his voice.) Do you want red crosses all over the page? And grammar, what about that apostrophe in the wrong place, how can you tolerate that for one single second? Correct it, please. Let’s get this right.
– Look, shut up, okay? I’m writing a story, not taking a typing test. I can put it right afterwards, let me just get on with it. I’ve got this character hanging by his fingertips from the cliff, do you want him to plunge to his death?
– Better he does than you write their when you mean they’re, how could you do that?
Now Snarker’s warming up. He’s got me worried about spelling and grammar, but that isn’t enough:
– You might as well let that guy fall off the cliff. He’s a dumb character, anyhow, who would ever care about him? All your characters are two-dimensional, did you know that? And a cliff edge? Puh-lease, don’t you know about avoiding clichés? Besides, he shouldn’t be there now, you clearly didn’t learn anything from all those writing craft books out there. You’ve reached a climax at least thirty pages too soon.
– Buzz off, will you? As it happens, I’m not writing my scenes in order. I’m working on the key ones first.
– How sloppy is that? Amateur, I’d call it. You’ll never get a book finished that way.
– I always do.
– Maybe if you didn’t do that, you’d be a better writer. Maybe you’d be a million copy bestseller if you just listened to me. Because you’re going nowhere with this story, you do realize that? If I were you, I’d bin it, start again, and this time pay attention to what I have to say.
Number 1: Blank out the screen. If you can’t read what you’re writing, nor can he.
Or, Number 2: if you need something on the screen (and want to be sure you’re not typing into an email to the gas board), shrink the text to a size where you can’t read it.
Number 3: Use a dictation program, and speak into a digital recorder.
Take up advanced meditation so that you can remove Snarker from your consciousness.
Buy a Snarker zapper on eBay.
Get the cat to write your stories.
How do you deal with the critic on your shoulder?