Welcome to our standard twice-weekly edition. Today, I want to focus on writing as a creative outlet. I have been writing in this capacity since I was a small boy. I wrote a poem in class when I was in the fourth grade. It was published by one of those vanity press outfits for our class. Each student could purchase a copy. My parents did so.
I have no idea what the poem was even about now. I haven’t read or even opened the book in decades. The gesture was sweet and I can recall being appreciative of the opportunity. The biggest takeaway for me was that I could use writing as an outlet. I didn’t really dive into writing again until I was fourteen.
At that point, I began my first attempt at a novel. I’ll save you the suspense. It wasn’t any good. I tried to write about a secret service agent protecting the President. I had no idea how to make a story flow or build subplots throughout the story. I got maybe 100 pages or so into it before I realized I’d written myself into a corner. The experience was valuable because it gave me my first taste of constructing a larger narrative.
At fifteen, for a class project, I chose to write an autobiography. We were given a handful of options and I was the only student in the class who chose the written option. It came about to about fifteen pages and I scored well on it. The experience gave me confidence that I could pursue writing at some point in my life, should I have the desire to do so.
Like most people who went to college, most of my writing there was strictly for assignments. I was far less concerned with finding my voice or incorporating creativity into my style than I was with completing assignments so I could go off and be with friends. At the same time, I gained further confidence because I could see how much easier it was for me to write than my peers. What might take them all night took me no more than two or three hours. Even for longer projects in the 15 – 20 page realm.
I even had a fellow student ask me to write his term paper for him for $100. While that was a lot of money in 1996, I politely declined. I had no desire to get kicked out of school for cheating.
Setting that aside, I didn’t get back into creative writing until I was in my early 30s. At the time, it was an outlet for me to express my attempt to understand the sensory-deficit issues that were plaguing our young daughter. My story was about a serial killer in Denver. The protagonist was a female character with autism (something my daughter does not have, though I have worked professionally with many children who do). Anyway, the protagonist had the ability of precognition. It wasn’t a superpower or anything like that. Instead, it was based on the theory that some people recognize context clues far sooner than others. I finished that story. It rolled in around 80,000 – 90,000 words. It was also garbage.
Even though I abandoned that project, I still grew from it. I did my planning and pre-writing phases based on my earlier failure, so many years ago. Where I went off-track with this particular project was that I didn’t do any editing along the way. I thought, at the time, that I should wait to edit the story after I finished a completed first draft. When I had done so, I proudly began to read through my project to decide what edits needed to be made. Along the way, I discovered that by not editing throughout the process, I had diverted myself so far off-course from my original idea that it would mean rewriting the second half of the book.
I think my mom kept a copy of that project. I’ve told her to pitch it because it wasn’t good enough for me to even want to rework it. Still, I learned something that I need as a writer to see a project through to completion. I learned that I need to edit as I go. This is not something that every author needs. In fact, many authors are able to knock out a draft and then go back to editing after doing so. Not me.
I like to write short, punchy chapters that focus on smaller scenes. This implies a standard 80,000 – 90,000 word project of mine will have more chapters than the average work of fiction. It also implies that I need to monitor my scenes and chapters as I write to ensure I’m staying on course. To help me do this, I pre-write each chapter before I ever write the story. In my pre-writing, I write out the first paragraph of what I anticipate that scene to be. I jot notes down for specific details I want to include along the way. Finally, I check my progress along the way to verify that I am still arcing towards the storyline I anticipated.
In addition to this, I go back and group-edit every five chapters. This allows me to keep the most recent part of the story fresh in my mind while ensuring no plot holes open when I am connecting the sections of the story.
It’s really this last part of my process that I’ve been thinking about lately. The reason this has been on my mind is I am in the process of helping a friend edit their story. In helping, I don’t want to minimize the author’s voice or style while providing useful feedback to develop the story with more punch and action. The other important aspect of editing, whether it’s your own work or someone else’s, is to check the work for readability. This can be a challenge because the author sees the story in their own mind and can’t always read it as a separate work.
If I could give any advice I’ve learned from my own experiences and failures, it is to step back and read your work slowly and from a separate point of view. This is quite possibly the most difficult portion of editing because we, as authors, want to leave in specific passages that resonated with us. Still, they often have to be cut because they won’t resonate with readers. Furthermore, if they don’t add direct impact to the story, they end up detracting from the theme or message an author is trying to convey.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I wanted to share my experiences in how I’ve grown as a writer. I also wanted to share my specific process for how I go about communicating my story throughout an entire text. I sincerely believe fiction should be entertaining and informative. I know some people enjoy fluff-fiction. There’s nothing wrong that. It typically has a wide audience. It’s just not the fiction I prefer to write. If I can’t connect my idea to a universal theme, then I won’t write it for a lengthy piece of fiction. I live by this because it’s the engine that drives me to complete the story. It drives the message from the point-of-view I am trying to capture. Finally, it offers me the platform to share my perspective in an uninterrupted fashion. As always, this has been the World According to Chris.