Questions of a Thousand Dreams

Good questions make good writers. Some of the best questions start with “What if…”. I have managed to keep a draft on track by asking myself a few choice questions like that. I won’t say that the answers were always entirely satisfactory but they kept the story moving forward. One of the challenges of writing by the seat of one’s pants is that you generate a lot of extraneous side stories that don’t contribute to the development of the main plot.

The conventional wisdom among writers is that you have to weed out the extraneous threads when you edit. The key here is figuring out what the main story is that you are telling. I do appreciate the archival features of modern writing tools. It allows you to save all the iterations that you go through on the way to writing your masterpiece. If you delete something critical, you can easily retrieve it. You can also try various alternative sequences and versions to see how they read.

All of these tools aren’t worth a whit if you don’t have the judgement to figure out what is good and what isn’t.  This is the foundation of the advice that writers must read a lot. It is how you acquire the experience that feeds your judgement. Thus, it is good to read widely, even beyond the margins of your chosen genre. The primary criteria should be quality writing and insight into human nature. I suspect the two are subtly related.

The other big question that challenges every writer is deciding when a piece is done. There are numerous objective criteria, such as number of words, structural completeness, and carefully listening to the comments of respected reviewers. The latter takes practice. It is hard to hear people say critical things about your creation, no matter how deserved the comments may be. But the writer’s response to such criticism must be kept simple. They must thank their critics. No excuses should be made. Discussion is not event required unless it is to ask questions in order to better understand the comments.

It is incredibly difficult to listen to criticism without becoming defensive. It is hard enough to expose your most sensitive inner thoughts to others but then to accept their comments without response is harder still. It is absolutely necessary though. If you value honest criticism, as you must if you intend to grow and improve as a writer, you must reward the person that provides it with your sincere thanks.

I know this to be true but I must admit that I haven’t managed to write a draft that was complete enough to ask for serious criticism. I have written some  character sketches that I have asked for criticism on. I have intended to thank my reviewers properly. I am not a good judge of how well I did on that. I suspect there is plenty of room for growth in that regard as well.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.