Monday, April 19, 2010

Two Hats

If you didn't know, I've written a lot of books. Like, 14 or something ridiculous number like that. What can I say? I needed the practice—I still need the practice. I was really just that bad. You name a writing faux pas, and I can guarantee you I once used it far too liberally.

But there's one good thing about having written such an obscene amount: You learn your process. You start to see the patterns in the way you create, both good and bad. Which in turn helps you improve/streamline that process.

One thing I've noticed about myself lately is something I'm calling the Two Hat Effect.

Hat One: Writing (as in rough drafting)
My rough drafting process is so creatively charged that my analytical side takes a back seat. I let myself experiment, break rules, and discover my character's story. No plotting. No real plan save a vague idea of what could happen.

Hat Two: Editing
Despite my extremely organic rough drafting process, I'm kind of a ruthless editor. I'm extremely critical of my own work—so critical that I can tear myself to pieces if I'm not careful.

Living With The Hats
I think every writer wears these hats to some effect. If you're more of a planner in first draft, your process may not be as juxtaposed as mine, but I imagine you still take on a more critical eye for editing.

It seems like such a strange process, this writing thing. We are both the creator and the critic of our own work. We spend months and months just trying to put the dang story together. And for what? So we can tear it apart and start all over. Several times.

The emotional roller coaster never ceases to knock me off my feet. You'd think after so many projects that I would be used to it by now, but it feels brand new every time.

And that's the thing about writing. You can learn and learn—but those lessons may not apply to the next project. In a way, you have to RElearn the craft for every book. You have to go back and forth between those hats over and over, which is easier said than done.

Switching Hats
Maybe some of you have experienced that mental paralysis I get when I finish a project and start thinking edits. My whole body tenses. My stomach knots. I have to, what? EDIT? But it's my baby! It'll be so much work. I can't wrap my brain around that! Can't the story just be perfect? Please?

I've been in creative writing mode for so long that editing seems like a monster, one I'd rather not face.

Conversely, perhaps some of you have experienced that mental paralysis I get when I finalize edits and think about starting a NEW project. My whole body tenses. My stomach knots. I have to, what? WRITE? But I can't have another baby! It'll be so much work. I can't wrap my brain around that! It won't be perfect! Can't I just edit forever? please?

I've been in editing mode for so long that first drafting seems like a monster, one I'd rather not face.

Huh, weird how that works.

Having gone back and forth between these hats several times, I've learned something about myself. It's not writing or editing that I hate—it's that time it takes to adjust to the freaking hat. At first, it feels...wrong. So I take off the hat and try to put it on my head differently, and it still feels weird. Then I panic because it doesn't fit! What if it never fits? Sure, people say it'll stretch out, but they're probably lying so I don't regret my purchase.

At some point, I stop panicking and just wear the stupid hat. It feels too tight—and surely looks stupid—but I just keep wearing it until it doesn't seem so strange.

Insert continuation of metaphor here.

Once I get comfortable with either writing or editing, I enjoy it. I honestly do. But it's that switch between the two that has me constantly questioning myself. That's the period of time when I worry I suck as a writer, when I think about giving up, when I curl up in a ball and eat way too many brownies.

But I'm finally realizing that the fastest way to get over that period of doubt and panic is to stop fiddling with the stupid hat. Just wear it until it doesn't feel so stupid anymore.


  1. It's definitely the adapting to change that's hard. I used to find the same thing when my kids went off to their grandma's: I couldn't bear to let them go, then I got used to doing grown up things and it felt like a huge burden to get them back. Then I was so glad to see them!

  2. Hats make my head itchy. No matter how cute they look or how practical they are for the weather I end up snatching them off and stuffing them in my pocket.

    I think this may explain my writing process and why I find it so hard to finish anything.

    Word verification : ackiness (how it feels for me to wear a hat)

  3. Also … I ADORE the new look of your blog. I need to fix mine up. I think the reason I haven't blogged much is because I hate the look of it.

    I need redecorating tips!

  4. Oh, hats. I had a love affair with hats in college. It's an apt metaphor.

    I hate the changing back and forth. The rough draft/revision sides of me are just two closely related for it to be entirely comfortable.

  5. The painful thing is when one hat seems to be doing the work of both at the same time...Argh.

  6. I guess I go into zones....I have a brainstorming zone, a writing zone, a revising zone and an editing zone. Sometimes I have to start at the wrting zone each time I pick up the ms. Sometimes I just keep writing and then go back when I get stuck....It varies.

  7. Here's the deal for me. I love both hats. The creative hat is fun, exciting, and I never know if my character will stick to the outline I've written or take off in a different direction. The editing hat is more serious, but logical and methodical in helping me make the best story I possibly can. Thank heavens for the editing hat.
    Great post!

  8. I think I'm wearing both hats right now, and it's clunky and heavy and awkward. MMM...brownies.

  9. It's scary that you've read my mind! You've worded it much better though, so the hat you're wearing fits just right!

  10. Starting something new always terrifies me. I'm glad I'm not alone.

  11. I'm very much the same: comfortable when I'm in a zone and nervous when I have to get out...writing-wise.

  12. I can relate. I think we share a similar writing process. Good thing, in my opinion; we all need people to understand. :o)

  13. Awesome post, Natalie.

    And may I recommend a beret. It's stylish, comfy, and versatile enough that you can just kinda tip it to the side a bit without changing its look, style, or comfort much. Plus it just looks bad-a**. haha.

    Maybe it's just me, but sometimes as I'm editing or writing lately, if I slow down a bit and just kinda cock my story to the side a bit, I don't feel like it loses so much of what I'd hoped remained.

  14. Definitely relating to this now as I am (re)drafting the same novel. It took some interest from an agent who read the summaries on my blog to kick-start me into finishing and polishing it.

    I am so overly critical of myself that I will often stop writing entirely because I think I'm so bad. But then how can I improve if I don't practice, right? Sometimes it's hard to push past that inner critic and I've finally been able to do it again. It feels really good too. :)

  15. I love your statement about how writers are both the creators and critics of their own work; that's totally right on. I also know what you mean about how revision can be complicated. I added two new characters to my manuscript after I finished the first draft, and they totally changed the story.

  16. Sometimes I have too many hats on at once... it becomes itchy, hot and just plain overwhelming!

    Fun post though!

  17. What a great post!! I've never really thought of it that way, but it's true for me too! Wow, you nailed it on the head. I'm actually quite relieved as part of me wondered if I do hate parts of the process.

    Now, I get it. Thank you!

  18. Great post.
    And I definitely like the last part about just wearing the hat. Hits it right on the head.

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  20. See, I flip back and forth between hats constantly, and then I end up all: "Oh bleep! What was I supposed to be doing?"

    Good times. Good. Times.

  21. I love that analogy!

    For my first WIP, I pretty much balked at the thought of editing. I put my novel to sit for a whole year, before I convinced myself to pick it apart.

  22. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with re learning and making mistakes I thought I'd already overcome. Not that I wish that on you. ;) Just that it makes me feel like a normal writer.

  23. "But I'm finally realizing that the fastest way to get over that period of doubt and panic is to stop fiddling with the stupid hat. Just wear it until it doesn't feel so stupid anymore."

    Hehe, I love it. And need to do it.

    Part of my problem too is that I keep wanting to wear both hats simultaneously! But of course, that just mucks everything up. At least for me.

  24. So true! This is totally me also. Funny...

  25. I love your two hats metaphor, and it took me a while to find my process, but I'm closing in on it. Now, if it would just stand still ...

    In your ~14 novels, what would you guess is your total word count? Have you zoomed past that magical 1,000,000 word mark?

  26. I used to hate editing. I used to want to flee for the hills the moment I had to edit.

    Now, I love it. I love improving my work. I like deleting bad sentences, changing the plot. I don't cry (as much) if I have to cut out huge chunks. Because I know it is for the benefit of the story.

    Muse definitely wears two hats - no, two whole wardrobes! Creative Muse, and Editorial Muse. Woe betide me if I ignore her in either one.