When I began writing fiction forty years ago, I fell into the trap that ensnares and torments all young writers. When the words failed to come or I did not like the words that came, I was convinced that my difficulties amounted to a “word problem”. I just did not know the right word. After all, we all had the specter of Dickens floating in the back of our minds—breaths of ragged fog condensing into glinting drops on the burnished brass knockers of stately doors in Kensington.
So we struggled to get the right word. Writers are not born editors so the strategy of approximation is foreign to them and slightly offensive to their Dickensian personas. Rather than jotting down a word marker that is close to what you want, and cleaning it up later, they, because they imagine that all the great literature they have read is first draft material, stop the story and wrangle with the word. Not only is the “word problem” almost fatal to the creation of fiction, it leads to an equally crippling corollary: the inspiration axiom.
The inspiration axiom holds that the writer must be in a certain rare mood, or have a special place for the task, or perform some magic ritual before the story will come. This axiom is responsible for writers not establishing a disciplined schedule of writing. This axiom creates, not fiction writers, but coffeehouse writers. These are people who frequent coffeehouses in writers garb and spend endless hours talking about theories of writing or other people’s work and lamenting that, for the time being, inspiration has fled them.
Because writing is composed of words, it is natural that young writers fall into the “word problem” trap. The error is that these writers think that what they must create is words. The “word problem” concept is as false is as a composer imagining he had to create notes. A composer must create music. A writer must create story. Story is the meaning of experience rendered in experience. In writing fiction, there are never word problems—never, never, never. There are only story problems.
The golden secret of writing fiction is simple: tell yourself the whole story, warts and all, and clean it up during the first re-write and editing phases.
The first re-write phase is creation not burdened by plot because the story has already been told. It is not copy editing. It is not copy editing. It is not copy editing. It is still creation, still storytelling.
Then comes the second re-write phase. This is not creation. This is the story editing phase. Here, the pace, mood, point of view, dramatic arc, themes and major conceits are set right.
Next, comes the audio editing phase. This is not creation. You cannot ever skip this phase. Never. Read the story aloud. You must hear it and mark it up if it does not sound right.
If the audio editing phase reveals problems, you must return to highest phase required to fix those problems.
The final phase is copy editing. This is not creation. Here you can finally address your “word problem”. In addition, you check spelling, grammar, syntax, and diction.
Realizing that writing fiction is the creation of story, not the production of words, frees writers from the ravages of both the “word problem” and the inspiration axiom. I discovered the golden secret of writing fiction many, many years ago when I was an international road warrior. I was flying to one continent or another and scribbling in my notebook. The guy in the seat next to me described his struggle to get the “words to come out.” I explained the golden secret to him and warned him that once his mind understood that it had to create story that the words would pour out of him. My fountain of story has been spewing for twenty-five years and has created an awesome flood of words.
Buy Michael Warren’s novel The Estrangement Of The Rain God now!