I’ve discussed fear and stubbornness when it comes to writing, but there is another feeling I’ve honed myself to pay attention to over the years. I call it the Writer’s Twitch, and rather than being a feeling that emerges from editing, it is more of a feeling I tend to get when in the middle of a writing period. It normally stops be dead in my tracks and my muse flees from me for weeks.
I will admit when it comes to my writing, I don’t get everything right the first time around. This is known as the shoddy first draft. No writer in the history of writing gets everything right the first time around. If such a writer does happen to exist, they sure as hell haven’t shared the secret on the web. That nothing will help when I accidentally hit the wrong key on the keyboard, usually the vowels, and it’s not picked up by spell checker because technically I have spelt a real word if not the one I’d intended to use. If humans can’t programme computers to help write the perfect first draft, then it simply doesn’t exist.
For the longest time in my writing career I was an isolated writer. I wrote stories, normally in my free time in school. I remember once being sat alone writing in a classroom while the England football team were playing in some important match or other in the Football World Cup, while everyone else sat in the common room because the teachers had arranged a special session near the end of the school year for everyone to watch the game.
I opted out and finished the first draft of the first novel I ever attempted to write. England lost, and I was too happy to care (not that I was very bothered in the first place anyway, but that’s beside the point). This was in the days before Facebook, Twitter and all the guys in the band came and gathered the writing world together in social media. The minute I joined up though and began to take writing more seriously and looked at platforms to launch myself from, the first bit of solid unwavering advice I got was about the fact you can’t always get it right. It still shocks me now that I thought I had got it right all those years ago.
That first draft I finished in my geography classroom is on loose paper and is utterly shoddy; it doesn’t make me any less proud of the fact I finished it, even though I doubt I will ever make it into a proper novel one day. The complexity of my fantasy compositions have developed beyond those characters and that story; quite frankly so have the audience.
The issues I deal with in my books now are not just about getting the characters from A to B, I have tangents in my character development, and the current rewriting of my novel is testimony to the fact tangents can make characters more interesting especially in the long run. As an epic fantasy writer this is very important, but as I’ve been finding out it isn’t any easier to write despite having a great deal more practice since those school days.
I still get what I call ‘the twitch’ every now and then in the back of my mind. Even through I am writing about a completely different world, where social rules and norms are different from ours, and are so for fundamental reasons, every now and then something just does not feel right.
It usually starts when I’ve finished writing what I wasn’t convinced was right for the novel in the first place but I decided to try it anyway: sometimes it works spectacularly well, and then those other times…well I’m sure you can imagine. The twitch in the back of my mind gets worse when I realise I don’t know how to write the very next scene after I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right.
Then instead of attempting to move forwards I move backwards in the novel and rewrite scenes to justify and set up the action that I’m not convinced should happen in the first place. For me this can take a few attempts, and instead of justifying the action, I end up ruining previous scenes and beautiful moments in an attempt to ensure I don’t surprise my reader in a few pages time. When that happens, my gut instinct that something is wrong kicks me out of trying to justify it and instead think about how to fix it.
There was one particular case bothering me weeks; I’d written an intimate scene between two characters. I ended up hating it because it added so many complications to the characters relationship with each other and others. It brought my writing to a halt because I just could not figure out how to make the scene work. In order to solve it, it removed the scene and all of my character arcs and developments suddenly worked again, in fact if I wrote the scene with the characters making the conscious decision to not make love with each other made more sense.
Making that decision will surprise the reader, but not because the two characters in question do something, but rather, it works better for the book and the long term that they surprise everyone in my little world and in the real world that they choose not to do something which is perfectly normal, natural, but disgustingly for my fantasy world is expected to be done no matter what the feelings of those involved might be.
It required no set up (thank goodness for track changes and back-up copies to re-fix my justifications) and knew immediately how to write the next scene. All it required to fix was to let myself zone out for a few moments to realise that, one I had a problem, and two it was really very easy to fix, especially if I just stopped being stubborn for a second and listen to my gut instinct.
This particular case is not the only time that the Twitch has disturbed my writing; it also disturbs my sleep, because now I have learnt to recognise the feeling something is wrong, my brain now tends to let me know the solution in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep. It’s an annoyance but it is a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to
It is not always that easy, but that is what the shoddy first draft is there to help you do sometimes. It helps you to learn how ‘not’ to write your novels. Learning to admit you got it wrong though is a lot harder to learn and develop, but if you let ‘the twitch’ in the back of your mind guide you to realising something is wrong, then it makes it a lot easier to accept that you are not a perfect writer.
And if you are that perfect writer the first time, each and every time, come on already and let the rest of us in on the secret.