Let’s go back to luckenbach Texas with Waylon, Willie and the boys. Yes, maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love. Or at least focused on the process of writing without the electronic distractions. Writing is a very personal experience and when considering how I would want to go through that experience I can only rely on my past writing. The laptop or desktop computer is nice. The keyboard is very easy to use, one does not have to put much force on the keys to type in the words. And spell check, everyone has that program whether you are using MS Word or OpenOffice. Frankly, I prefer OpenOffice since I can always convert to and from Word or any of the other formats. Besides, it’s free. Besides, that Word has that stupid paper clip that always pops up when you least want the thing in your screen. But for myself, these programs encourage laziness. If I have a laptop then I become a one pass writer. That is, what I write on the first pass is generally good enough and subject to only one or two typos. Over the years I have learned how to hold upwards of two or three thousand words in my mind, block out an essay without much effort. But the laziness is that while the essay might be good, it could be better and like many other writers, I get lazy. I have a thousand excuses why I don’t go back and edit my work. The laptop as a word processor makes writing simply too easy. It allows writing without effort. The program will correct your spelling and some of your grammar. But that spell check program doesn’t always know what you have misspelled or what to suggest as a valid correction.
I am a believer in the hand to eye coordination, that connection of visual and physical exertion that provides a most positive feedback in writing. One of the things I disliked when I was a teenager was having to spend time physically writing words on paper with a pen or pencil. It is laborious and frustrating since I have dyslexia and my brain always seemed to run far too fast for my hand to write the words. Run on sentences, fragments, you name it, my work in high school was filled with such things. Well, yes, one had to get through a test or write that report or excuse of a theme paper. The villain was always time. Class time was short and we have papers to grade and projects to complete, and whatever else we might use as an excuse. Using a typewriter to put my thoughts down usually meant having to retype pages several times because that way the only way to correct mistakes unless erasure and a pencil would do the trick. I always believed that good writing should flow from the mind to the page as easy as pie and as good as gold. There must be something wrong with you it is doesn’t come out perfect or close to it. But then it is a matter of what you are being taught that matters. Teachers don’t want messy work, they don’t want disorganized thought, they want good work and unfortunately to sit and read a bunch of crap can consume the better part of a bottle of Scotch. On the other hand these same graduates of teachers colleges and state colleges, obviously no one from Harvard ever taught at any public school I ever attended, really didn’t know much about writing. I mean they tried to show how to outline but first you need to know what you know before you can start putting your knowledge into an outline form. Knowledge is not the simple to distill and disseminate, few do it well and it is very difficult to teach.
Now it is time to go back to that eye to hand coordination of thought put on paper. One of the best reasons to buy yourself some mechanical pencils with number seven lead in them and a few erasers is that by using the typical lined paper one can write on every other line, leaving room for corrections and comments. Having the physical paper in front of you gives you a control you cannot exercise over the word processor. You can spread the papers out and look at them in a far better way than you can with that 17 inch screen measured on the diagonal. This allows me that first pass of writing to be edited once and maybe twice before I put the paper in the manual typewriter and produce a another hard copy. Maybe I find out, like Hemingway, that description is best done with pencil and dialogue with a typewriter. This seems like a whole lot of work but I do believe the book is written in the editing process. The raw ideas come out and get bounced around as one looks over the written word and makes a few erasures and pencils in a few comments. Ideas need time to grow and take hold, plant themselves in the ground or get blown off the page. I mean, this process is not amenable to automation. A couple of decades ago I looked at software that was suppose to help writers write their stories, produce that story into a book form. Let me tell you, one could spend a thousand or two dollars letting a program write your damn book. Actually, there are still such programs. They help you create characters and keep track of their actions and time in the novel. Then there are those parts that keep track to the plot and sometimes make suggestions about how to proceed. As I said, who needs you, just type in a few words and the book is written, all without human interference. Some of you may ooh and awe or gasp and exclaim over these marvels of computerized help. Actually, it’s not much different than writing by committee. The trend in the last thirty to forty years has been to have your work, as it is written, read by a group of your peers who will make positive comments (negative comments are most unwelcome since they detract from the business of writing, in other words saying that something is crap is not helpful even it is crap, we like to hold onto our crap as most original writing). When you let other people write your words for you don’t be surprised if the novel no longer sound like something your wrote. Just because they can’t see what you are trying to get across doesn’t mean that these people know anything. Maybe you did make your point and they just can’t see it. Or maybe you didn’t make your point and you can’t see it. The fact is, what every writer needs is someone he or she can turnover the chapter or completed pages and let them read those pages. First impressions? Did they like it? Did they understand it? Do they like the characters and why or why not? The first rule is that you, the writer surrender all rights to your ego to these people. They are to read and be brutal, if necessary, as to judgment of your work. You must inform them that they are not stomping on your ego, even though you may think so, and remember, it’s not about your ego, damn it. They don’t need to have MFA in English and Literature to read your work and give it a fair evaluation. If they are the average person and don’t like what you read then your audience will be small as will be your paying public.
So I expect that by the time I have finally typed the copy into the laptop I shall have edited the work at least four times. It is the editing that makes or breaks a good book. My god, how many three and two star reviews have I read on Amazon that someone’s novel or nonfiction tome was in need of a good editor? Hey, those three and two stars don’t lie. If you want free books delivered to your doorstep, write five star reviews and gush like crazy. Hell, even if you don’t read the books, write a lot of five star reviews by reading what others say and parroting their patronizing blather. You will be sent lots of books. I mean, Amazon doesn’t know if you bought the book or not. Reviews don’t mean a thing, sales do. You can have thousands of five star reviews and never sell a single copy. That is literally possible. Just remember that when you have a friend or spouse that reads your work and offers up their opinion, just say to them that they are not salvaging your ego, they are passing judgment on your book. Nothing personal. Keep it that way, ask for the truth and treat it with respect. It doesn’t mean you have to change stuff just so they like it. But you should review it as if you were the strictest editor.