Me: Bad writing is an oxymoron...
You: Wha-? You mean all writing is good?
Me: Yes. Bad writing - literally - does not exist.
You: You've read 50 shades, right?
Me: No, actually. I've heard it's awful for anyone not female and/or slightly snobbish about writing.
You: See! Bad writing....
Me: That's not what I said -
You: You did! You said it's awful - you know, bad characters, poor plot, weak grammer, overuse of the phrase "inner goddess", cliche'd and out of touch...You know. Bad!
Me: Ah right! Yeah, you're not talking about writing -
You: Well I'm certainly not talking about baseball...
Me: - You're talking about editing.
You: So....what's writing then?
Me: Starting with the first word, placing words on the page (figurative or literal) until you reach the end of the story. So if you write badly....?
You: Ernest Hemmingway appears and gives you an atomic wedgie?
Me: Don't be sarcastic
You: Ok, ok. So a bad writer doesn't write anything down...therefore, nothing's written.
You: Whether it reads well or not is down to editing, right?
Me: 2 for 2
You: So Bad writing is just writing that doesn't exist....?
Me: Congratulations! You've just won a feeling of smug self-satisfaction.
You: I guess that makes some sense. Pedantic, but logical. Now, why are we in a Jacuzzi again?
Me: Cos I'm writing this. My choice...
OK – so it’s not a new concept. But I hoped that, by writing it out, I might convince myself of its truth. All that crap I’ve learned about craft - character arcs, foreshadowing, exposition, starts, ends, dialogue tags, showing not telling, POV, ‘That’ and ‘was’, passive voice, plot twists, semi-colons – all of it has NOTHING TO DO WITH WRITING (disclaimer: This isn’t strictly true, but I’ll address that later)
Producing a piece of fiction is like cooking dinner. It took me a while to find the best simile and, at the moment, the cooking metaphor is the best I’ve got so far. Why? Ok here goes.
Cooking a great meal comes in 3 parts. 1: A recipe. 2: Buying the ingredients. 3: Cooking them. Map those processes over, here’s what we’ve got. 1: Plotting. 2: Writing. 3: Editing. When you think about it this way – there’s actually very little in the way of transferable skills between cooking and buying. The sole job of going out to the supermarket and coming back with a bag of ingredients is to give you something to cook with. What should you be buying? Check the recipe! How do you fricassee a bunch of beets? Cook it! What happens when it goes wrong? Adjust recipe, go out and buy some more beets, fricassee better.
All of those writing skills you’ve learned only work in the kitchen, when you have a pile of words to prep and cook. And sometimes Mint doesn’t go with Duck. So you have to go buy some oranges, throw away the mint, then reduce and….yeah, you get the gist (I could map a ton of cooking phrases over to writing). No one’s ever stopped in the middle of doing the vegetable aisle, set up a stove, and just checked to see if chervil and fennel work in a butter sauce. They decide it will (through gut instinct, or research, or stealing off another recipe), then they BUY what they need. When you get home and cook it – then you’ll know. Can any of your cookery skills make it work? No? You worry about your ability and your recipe during the meal planning phase, or while you’re cooking. Not WHILE you’re buying the stuff.
That’s not to say you can’t improve. Shopping can be arduous at times, but you can get better at it – remembering the layout of the aisles, packing bags properly, looking for deals and bargains, squeezing vegetables, being able to fly on a trolley to quickly bypass the soup and get to the tinned sweetcorn at the end without crashing, checking different shops. You get some feedback from the cooking process and guidance from the recipe, knowing that one brand of tinned tomatoes is better than another, or if dried sage actually works better that fresh. But at the end of it all, you go to the shop with a list and come out with bags of food. That’s it. Nothing else involved.
I need to keep this in mind constantly. I trip into paralysis now because I’ve got a cartload of knowledge and skills, but I’m trying to use them while I’m WRITING! Writing isn’t about art; it’s about effort. It’s about getting from the start to the end and that’s it. Getting from start to finish in style? Yeah that’s editing. Writing isn’t about coming first or last, it’s just about getting the badge that says “finished” and that is all.
You can’t bake a cake if you come back from the supermarket without any food – You can’t edit without any words.