There is pain in writing. There is discouragement. Often these wounds are self-inflicted. We end up making the writing process agonizingly painful because we spend too much time thinking and learning about what we're going to write and how we intend to write it, but spend little time thinking about what we are actually doing when we write.
How many times have you sweat blood writing something to the very best of your ability, set it aside to let it cool off, and come back later to realize that what you've written falls far short of your own standards of good writing? Talk about pain and discouragement; there is none finer.
Understand, first of all, that this is not unusual, especially for beginning writers. It will help you in your career and in your writing if you spend a few moments to study what's happening and why.
In sitting down to create with words, we writers put on and wear many hats. Some of these hats are our editor's hat, marketing hat, author book-signing hat, writer's hat, reader's hat, and our dealing with agent and publishers hat. Okay, lot's of hats, and I'm sure that you recognize you've worn more than one of them. In the beginning, to avoid as much pain and discouragement as possible, not to mention promote successful writing, we need only think about four hats. These are the thinking cap, the writer's hat, the editor's hat, and, most important of all, our reader's hat. By the way, these are all fun hats to wear even with all the heavy baggage they force us to struggle and carry.
THE THINKING CAP
This is usually the first hat that we put on. It's the one were we wrestle mental monsters to create story ideas, plots, outlines, themes, characters, synopsis, notes, thoughts, ideas, plans, and research. Some find this the hardest hat to wear. Some never figure out how or when to take it off. Some are just afraid of the next hat they have to put on when they're finished with this one.
This is not a difficult hat to wear. It does mean work. It requires a lot of heavy mental activity called thought and thinking, but it is exciting and fun. There is also a trap in wearing this hat that you need to know about. Actually there are two traps.
The first trap has to do with the mind and the wonderful way it works. It goes something like this: You have this idea for a novel or an article or a poem, whatever, and you begin to think hard about it. You begin working that brain muscle hard, making notes, doing outlines, planning research, and creating spider-web like brainstorming diagrams. Now this isn't easy work and our wonderful brain, the brain that made the human race great and separated us from the animals, begins to look for another way out-an easier way. And, suddenly, you're flooded with a wealth of great ideas. Each idea seems better, one more exciting then the next, and all of them seem better than the one you've chosen to work on now. This is the trap. Here is the solution. Remember, you control your brain. Write down these new ideas, because they usually are great, but make your mind concentrate on the idea you've chosen and make it work. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in great-idea Hell for a long time and you may not ever complete anything. You'll have a lot of notes and ideas for your writing portfolio.
The second trap is sneakier and just as dangerous. This trap is the never-get-finished-with-your-research hat. This trap includes never being satisfied with your plot, outline, or any of the other Thinking Cap processes you've undertaken. This trap is the "think what you'll know tomorrow," trap: the never-ending process. Again, many of the reasons behind the first trap above apply here, but the real reason that we get stuck in this quicksand is that our mind knows what hat comes next and will find all kinds of interesting reasons not to take off the Thinking Cap for the dreaded Writer's Hat.
THE WRITER'S HELMET
The writer's hat is, hopefully, the one that we wear most often. It's the hat we wear when we battle to pour our concepts, thoughts, feelings, and life's essence out to the readers of the world. It's also one of the hats we choose to wear to writer's groups, critique groups, and to bragging cocktail parties. It's an amazing magical hat in that it changes shape and size as we grow and change as writers.
In the beginning, it's a beginner's hat. It's new and rough and you fight and form it to become comfortable and, eventually, old hat. This warrior's helmet may smoothen out through hard work, and lots of wear and tear. As we work at it we hope that someday it will fit perfectly and become a freelance, travel, independent, or best selling authors' chapeau. But, all of us wear a writer's hat of some sort and fit and fuss the words onto the blank page and do the absolute best job we possibly can in this creative and difficult process.
When wearing this hat do not be tempted to take it off, even for a few minutes, to put on another hat. In other words, do not slip on the Thinking Cap or the Editor's Hat even for a few minutes. Make a note on the page for research or editing, but keep on writing. That's the hat you're now wearing. Wear this hat for at least two hours every day, if you can. It's a craftsman's hat and it's the hard work that will get the writing done.
Wear this hat with pride and confidence. You are a writer and are writing and are wearing your writer's helmet. Can't the whole world see that? Well, they will. Write what you want to say. Write your passion. Don't write what you think they want to hear. Don't try to see into the future and spend years of your present time writing what you think will be popular in the future. Write what you're hot about, what makes you angry; what pushes all your buttons, what makes you cry, what hits you in the gut. Put on your hat and write. When you're done, remember to set aside your pages of manuscript to cool off. You'll have plenty of time to polish and fix the words up when you put on your next hat, the Editor's Hard Hat.
THE EDITOR'S HARD HAT
The editor's hat has all of the characteristics of the writer's hat as far and being new, rough, and better the more your wear it and work on it. It's also, quite often, a more fun hat to wear too. It's this hat you wear as you set about to polish, rework, and finalize your writing. It's not as difficult a hat to wear as the one that requires complete creativity, but it also one that indicates hard work as well. There's a lot of study here for the new writer and constant learning and upgrading for the experienced writer. Too much usage of favorite words, wrong usage of words, better descriptive words, active and passive voice, showing and telling, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns all need to be examined with a critical eye. Wearing this hat you will mark, rewrite, delete, change, cut, paste, move, and all the other editing functions to bring your work to the best quality you are capable of at that exact moment in time.
One tip for when you wear the editor's hat comes when you have your work critiqued by a friend, group, or professional. Please understand that they put on their editor's hat to examine and suggest changes. The way they would write or examine or change your work. These changes may not be the natural way you'd ever write. In other words, not in your voice, not the way that you think, and not the way you'd ever write anything. Your editor's hat here is very important. You can learn a tremendous amount by their suggestions and training, but you must always be true to your own voice, tone, thought, idea, and way of putting words on paper. This is a big part of your job when you're wearing your Editor's Hat.
THE READER'S STRAW PANAMA
As an expert reader you have a responsibility to make the reader's experience as comfortable as possible. You've spent a good part of your life reading books. You know what you like, what catches your interest, what you feel is excellent writing. You now put on this hat to examine the work you've just finished writing and editing and within moments you're slammed into a huge downward spiral of disappointment. Your precious words, your story, your novel, in your estimation--stinks! You've done your best and it's not there.
There are a number of things you can do when this happens. Put it aside, write another, write another, and write another. You will get better and better and closer and closer to your reader's hat giving its approval to your writing. You can then go back, rewrite, edit, and then finish and send out all your works.
Another thing you can do is to leave the final judgment of your writing or novel to others. Send out your work to publishers and try to sell it. It may be just what they're looking for to purchase for their readers. It may be better written than a huge majority of what they receive. If it's rejected, listen to what they offer as advise (if any), and the fact of rejection may mean your reader's hat is right-on and you can trust it as you continue to write and read.
The pitfall here is to never send your work out because it never seems to measure up to your level of judgment. At some point you have to acknowledge that this is the best you can do with a piece of work and you need to send it out into the world. If it keeps coming back then look at it as apprenticeship dues and place it in the box under your bed. You may find as you write and get better that you can salvage these works. You also may find that you can learn a lot from what you wrote earlier by studying what you did wrong and work to do better.
THE FOUR HATS
The four primary hats, the thinking cap, the writer's helmet, the editor's hard hat, and the reader's Panama all work to make you a professional best selling writer and author. They work best when you understand how you write and which hat your wearing at any given time in the process. Here are some final suggestions to consider about wearing hats when you write:
Do not wear more than one hat on your head at a time.
Don't try to wear your writer's hat and your editor's hat at the same time. It doesn't work well. You rarely make great strides forward and you may not finish the work at all.
Do not switch hats one right after the other or too often. Leave one on for a while.
This is the similar to the suggestion to the one right above. Your mental processes change when you change hats. The creative writing process (creative-right brain) is different then the editor's process (logical-left brain) or however your brain is subdivided and works. Figure it out, understand, and use that knowledge. This will make you a much better writer.
Do study your expertise, behavior, and abilities when you have on each hat.
You go to writing seminars, classes, and study groups to learn to write. To do better when you have on your writer's hat, give some thought and study to the fact that you may need to take some brainstorming, outlining, critical thinking classes for when you have on your thinking cap. Or you may need some additional reading or training on editing and rewriting for your editor's hat. Give this all some thought.
So, spend some time studying how you write, what hats you have and use, your capabilities with each hat, the training and studying you may need to improve, but above all write, write, write. It's the best way to learn and be a success by wearing the right hat.
Read more articles by Thomas Kappel or search for articles on the same topic or others.