Dear Unreliable Narrators:
For my 2016 New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided I want to grow up to be a writer and a podcaster, just like all of you are. What are my first steps?
I’m glad you asked that, Unreliable Listener! This is Cath, and the other Narrators can respond in their own unique way, but I have a couple of ideas on the subject.
The first thing you have to do, aspiring writer, is to write. You have to write a lot. And you have to write a lot of crap. Words do not come out of your pen fully formed like Athena in her armor. Even when you’ve written a long time, the first words you birth will be scabrous and malformed. It is essential at this point that you write some more. All writers will tell you that first drafts are formative. They do things to your self-conscious. They deviate from outlines. They are as wiggly as worms on a fishing hook. But keep writing and don’t be critical of yourself until the right time, which is when you feel a first draft has given you as much as it can. For some people that point is at the end. For others, it’s a constant scouring of the last section they wrote before they move on to the next one. Most people are somewhere in between.
Find a way to separate the creator from the editor. Don’t do both. I’ve pretended that I can create and edit at the same time, but I was just living a lie. If you let the editor look at your work too soon, you might not be able to stomach your scabrous words, and quit, or you might lock yourself into a structure which keeps your story from bearing fruition. However, if you don’t let the editor in at all, your words will remain nasty.
My process varies from book to book, but usually I write a first draft, which usually collapses to almost outline form by the end, and then I laboriously go back in and unpack a lot of the stuff I wrote before. I also think through changes and re-outline. I also talk to my friends a lot about what I’m doing (a good writing group is another post) and bounce ideas off my husband. Sometimes an inspirational light bulb will appear above my head when my subconscious makes me realize something I’ve been doing all along. Eventually the mass of words comes to resemble a short story or a novel, or whatever it is I’m groping towards.
The point is to write, write often, write with freedom, expect little from those first drafts, and turn a critical eye on the beastie when the time is right, but not before. As you come to know yourself and your writing, you’ll come to know when the time is right.
Now, I’m sorry, aspiring writer, all of this does not guarantee that anyone else will care about your magnum opus, or that you will get an agent, or riches. But it does mean that you will engage in an art form and produce the stories you want to produce, hopefully your level of skill improving as you write and write and write and write and, well, you get the idea. There’s a whole ‘nother part of this, the business end, but again, that’s another post.
As for being a podcaster, well, that one’s a bit easier. You get some friends and a tape recorder, you sit around and talk and put it on line. We usually line up topics in advance and appoint a moderator, but you don’t have to. If you’re very lucky, one of your friends will make a swell theme song and another will do liner notes and all you’ll have to do is contact the occasional person and write a snarky post or two on the blog. At least that’s how I did.
Hey, let us know how you’re doing out there, Unreliable Listener! On the eve of 2017, you should write back and let me know how it’s going with that first draft. Or you could talk about it on your podcast.