Back when I was a lawyer and I wanted to learn a new area of law, I would offer to give a talk on that topic to some attorney organization.
Scheduling the talk, in turn, forced me to learn the area not only enough to understand it, but well enough to explain it to a room full of skeptical lawyers, often holding sharp knives as they cut their banquet chicken.
I always over-prepared, because I expected hostile questions or interruptions from some Theodore Knowitall: (*huffy voice*) “Well, actually, if you pay attention to footnote 17 of the Supreme Court opinion in…” (There is no mansplainer quite like the one with a law degree, showing off for his peers.)
Did you hear about the mansplainer who fell in a hole of his own making?
It was a well, actually…
So that’s what I’d like to do today: Write about what I most need to learn, to keep myself moving forward as a writer. In explaining it to you, I hope some of it will sink in for me.
Our topic this month is perseverance, but the blog administrators can’t jolt me with Internet-delivered electrical shocks if I meander slightly off-topic. (I’ve tested that, with prior posts.)
Writing is difficult. Writing for publication, for money, is even harder. An important component of how to persevere in the face of those difficulties is to figure out how to be kind to yourself in the process. When you write novels, for most of the time you are your own boss, so you might as well set up humane working conditions, just as you would for someone else.
One difficulty in writing is that you have to master two separate skills, at odds with each other. First, you have to let that raw creativity flow, honoring the unconscious, fanciful, and unharnessed.
Second, you have to bring your more analytical craft- and editorially-focused skills to shape, trim, craft, plan, and revise that wilder work.
But you can’t do both things at the same time.
Writing while constantly interrupting yourself with criticism is a little like singing while bashing yourself in the throat with a rake.
It’s a bad idea.
So bad, I’m pretty sure that’s how we got Nickelback
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it
Is that the perfect place for a Nickelback concert?
I type new material in a separate document from my manuscript, to signal to my harsh inner critic that I’m just playing around with words, and that it’s too early for him to get involved. I sometimes write new material longhand, in a notebook, for the same reason.
When it’s time to revise and polish, I have all kinds of tricks to make me look at the manuscript with fresh eyes: I convert it into a different font, revise from the back to the front, look at each character’s dialogue (or each subplot) separately, and—for sections of scenes that aren’t working—even put that part into free verse lines, and tinker with it as a poem.
Whatever works. But find a way to be kind to yourself.
Writing is difficult enough without causing more problems for yourself, letting your own premature criticism drag concrete blocks through the delicate machinery of your creativity.
And have fun. Writing is way more enjoyable, really, than lecturing to a room full of lawyers with glittery knives.
Persevere, persist, resist, and be well.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's and Jesse Andrews's .” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster