I debated about posting anything on this because my opinion is that I am in no position to criticize another writer in any way, given that I am only able to marginally call myself a ‘writer’. However, this person’s comments struck me as so counter-productive and supercilious that I eventually found myself compelled to say something, if only on my blog. As fledgling writer, I am always looking for insight from others, joining writer’s forums and Facebook groups in an attempt to familiarize myself with the community of authors and others in my genre. Clearly, there is wisdom in there experience of others who came before me and I am eager to learn from them, both their successes and their pitfalls. Some of this advice has been exceptionally informative, even when it is in some ways harrowing. Despite that, good advice is universally helpful.
However, some of it is categorically detrimental. In one of my Facebook groups, there has been a heated argument between two authors (neither of which was myself). One of the authors, in a broadly encouraging way, advocated prospective writers to ‘get it all on paper, write everything down and edit it later’. I’ve heard this before and most sources agree with it to some degree. Write first, edit later. While some people can efficiently self-edit, most writers I’ve seen weigh in on this agree that editing while you write can stymie your progress. The counter-argument was that good writers write lean and then add content later. The author then went on to accuse their opponent of providing ‘faulty’ advice and touted their extensive experience working with ‘the best writers in Hollywood’ (which to me sounds like they work primarily with screenwriting, which by their nature have to be lean) and teaching professional writing.
There is a lot that I could say about this opinion -which to a degree I agree with the wisdom of- and of the author of the post, but I’ll instead simply say: for a Facebook group dedicated to helping authors, the argument as it appears comes off very critical and derogatory. To be blunt: accomplished writers will rarely go to Facebook for advice on writing. They may frequent it to share with the community or to network, but they’re not looking to Facebook to improve their craft; they already have that firmly in hand. So that means most of the people that visit these groups are newer authors, those like myself trying to find the best way to improve their craft. Even if the core message has validity, telling newer writers they are flat-out doing it wrong seems like a poor way to encourage others in the act of writing. Indeed, it almost felt exclusionary from the tone in some of their posts. Some rules are inviolable: grammar, spelling, story and sentence structure. There is little to be disputed on these topics unless your work is in some way challenging conventions.
Yet, the process of just writing seems wholly outside the realm of right or wrong. There might be efficient or inefficient ways of creating a first draft, but I cannot believe there is an absolutely wrong way of doing it. As the more encouraging of the participants opined “writers have to be allowed to explore, write, fail, write again, get up and find what works best for them.” There is something to be said for unvarnished truth; an uncritical opinion does not help one grow. However, there is a difference between a critical opinion and overbearing one and in any situation where only one viewpoint is considered valid and acceptable, you have lost the benefit of objectivity.
I suppose my point is this: telling people that they are wrong in a fundamentally subjective stage of the process is harmful. Telling people they are inherently wrong is a flawed way to educate and share expertise. Explaining how things could be done better can accomplish the same goal, as well encouraging good habits as well as bolstering confidence. There is a time to be critical, to speak to truth, but during the rough draft seems a bit premature. It’s like criticizing a sculptor’s block of stone: it hasn’t had its true form revealed. All we can do as writers is to keep chipping away at the ‘stone’ until the shape of our novel emerges.
Am I wrong? Does he have a point? Is it easier to write slim and add later? For me it seems easiest to get all of my ideas on the table and then remove what I ultimately find unnecessary, like laying all of the legos on the table and then building with only what works in the end. Let me know your thoughts.