lxxiv

Every writer needs an editor. A first reader. I am incredibly lucky in that my wife loves to read or be read my stuff, and her insight is sharp and reliable. She’s been behind me while I struggled to get started, now she’s behind me as I gain momentum.

But criticism is still hard to take. As I’ve rattled on through this project trying to get 3 pages a day on the typewriter there have been plenty of times where I’ve written off the path, where a sentence has meant nothing (or not what I meant it to) or where I’ve just used a word or a phrasing that in the final draft will be cut.

I’ve done this to keep up my momentum. To make 50k words a possibility. But, most importantly, to prevent stalling along the way to my first ever finished full-length project. A draft. A complete draft. And nevermind how rough or splintered it is.

But though I’ve noticed these little errors pile up, and so has my wife, what I’ve begun to see is that there are some things I cannot ignore as I’m picking my way through the first draft. Consistency, character, voice. I can enhance how I’ve said something later, even improve the overall effect of what I’m trying to say. But right now I have to know, have to hold on to, who is saying it.

Which is where there have been uncomfortable moments. My wife is spearing with criticism – she knows exactly what she is trying to say and she says it. I would rather she told me something was awful than let it go on being awful. But I’ve still had a few moments, in the dark in bed, of lying silently thinking “How the hell do I solve this?”.

I’ve moved on from Part 1 to Part 2 for a few reasons – chronologically they are backwards in the book, and plenty of what is said in P1 is defined by what is in P2. But more importantly I found P1 quickly got a bit draggy, hard work, a little dull. I leapt into P2’s different style with gusto. Except last night the dreaded ‘boring’ word came up.

This section hasn’t been immune to criticism. Last week I went off-piste and wrote too much of myself into it, forgot the character and the voice. At the time I hadn’t actually thought about this, I had been simply writing without thinking at all. Now I’m realising that as much as I want my writing to spring out unedited, I still need to think.

So we talked a lot about the voice, the style, what the character really was. It’s improved significantly since. But the shape of P2 means I’m having to work hard to keep it credible, and last night I think I went too far, put realism ahead of interest, went too much for stylising it without thinking about good old storytelling.

The fact is that it doesn’t really matter that I didn’t see the ‘boringness’ or the missed opportunity. If my wife saw it, then that’s the important factor – someone else definitely will feel the same way, and likely it’ll be a huge number of someone elses. What I think is important for what I’m trying to say. Not in how someone takes it in.

But what is boring? The thought-driven nature of both P1 and P2 mean I need some other structures, and I’d found one in P2 that seemed perfect. But I’ve missed a beat, let it down. This is the problem with criticism – you cannot take it out of context and neither can you react by throwing everything up in the air. You have to blend.

First, I wrote trying not to be thinky, but then we talked about it needing anecdotal content and I went too thinky so I tried to cut it back. We talked about how it expressed themes and messages, and I went a bit too far in pushing these through the text. I’ve not quite found a balance, but that’s okay for now.

I’m just dumping now. One of the positives about writing every day is that I’ve had much less chaff washing around my head, much less time for the obstacles to build up between me and writing. And, so, this journal has become much less needed. In fact I’ve had to force a journal out, compared to the other posts which have sprung into my thinking.

Again, an evaluation of what this is good for. Writing endless noise just to clear my head isn’t something I should be forcing – I either need it or I don’t. Once I’ve achieved some peace I ought to stop. But I also want a bit more, I want to explore what I’m trying to achieve and how I’m struggling to get there. Or actually are getting there.

Writing about success, about something working, isn’t what I’m used to. I’m used to casting around looking for answers, self-examining to find the problem or solve something or uncover something that is clouding my connection with my self. If that’s not there, trying to create it is a ridiculous waste of time. Which is where I’m going to end.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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