Do you write with the handbrake up?

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When I first discovered my love for writing I’d sit down for hours happily creating a magical world, never once wondering what an end reader, or critical other would think.

And then I started writing for a living.

Journalism is not for the faint of heart. Or the sensitive. Or for anyone with a heart. Ok maybe not the last part, but it does seem to suit people who are not overly emotional. If I’m being honest.

Yet, and here’s the good news. Great writing is about emotion. It really is. Being able to feel for someone else, truly understand what someone feels in a moment can make all the difference.

So when I began life as journalist – and had to expose my thoughts and ideas to a critical editor there was a bit of an adjustment. Which is my nice way of saying that at times it was and can be brutal. It’s hard to write when you’re wondering what someone else is going to think about it – especially if they are sometimes very critical, or cruel (which can happen) or make a huge deal about a typo or missed comma. Which they do. It’s part of the growth process though – eventually, you do get tougher. You also get quite well acquainted with wine and crying in the bath, but that’s another story altogether.

Really hard criticism does help to make you a bit more detail-orientated though, which is a good thing but it can also sometimes, put that critical voice in your ear. And put it on loud speaker.

To me, it’s like writing with the handbrake up. You’re able to write but it’s hard going because you’re having to try ignore that annoying voice. It’s not always there. Some days the words come easy and I delight in every one. But others the FEAR arrives and it’s like wading against a current.

When that happens this is what I do to get myself through it:

  1. No editing as I write. If the scene doesn’t work, I just work around it – I can always come back and fix it later. Or with a little distance I might find that actually that scene is great. It happens. The trick is to keep moving forward. That old saying “You can’t edit first draft” is so true. I’ve put that up on my chalkboard because I sometimes need a daily reminder of this.
  2. Write with an ideal reader in mind. The best approach is to write what you like or to make sure that you enjoy what you’re writing. But there are times when you may not be able to be objective and are probably being too damn hard on yourself. I’m very fortunate that my best friend is my ‘ideal reader’ she’s the type of person who would be most likely to buy my book. She also has an honours degree in publishing and linguistics so she’s an invaluable resource. It’s easier at the end of the day to worry if she’s enjoying my story than a hard to imagine ‘public’. She’s also very honest and will tell me if I’m off base.
  3. Send for a second opinion. When I’m really worried that I may have gone off target and it’s caused me to get stuck, I send my ideal reader my manuscript and get her feedback. Sometimes my fears are correct but more often than not, they are ungrounded. She doesn’t hold punches with me in a nice way. So I know that she’s not just going to stroke my ego. She thinks that I’m good enough to take some criticism and make it better. I’m careful though to tell her at this stage what I’m worried about – so while I’m thrilled that she spots grammar gremlins and at this stage that’s not what I’m looking for.

Do you write with the handbrake up too sometimes? How do you push through it? I’d love to hear.

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