In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* “We’ll Fix It in Post(-Production)”
* Trust the Story to Unfold as it Should
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“As a somewhat bemused, non-writer outside observer … it occurs to me that there must be quite a number of misguided, myth-believing individuals for whom it’s more important to be able to say ‘Oh, how I’ve suffered for my art!’ than actually to have produced any. Go figure.” Russ Jones
“The best way to improve your craft is to trust the characters and record their story as they live it. I can help with that, but only you can cross your arms over your chest, tell the critical mind to shut up, and actually get on with it.” Me to a writer a few months ago when he asked whether I had mentorship spots open
“We’ll Fix It in Post(-Production)”
This is a reposting, with his permission, of Dan Baldwin’s Writing Tip of the Week. I edited it a bit for clarity. To sign up for Dan’s tips, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in my film/video/radio days a common phrase heard at production was, “We’ll fix it in post.” The reference is to some error or problem that the producer/director/writer team (me) would have to fix in editing and post-production. Those of us with any experience at all knew the fallacy of that pipe dream.
A case in point, I was shooting a film commercial in Nashville which involved the spokesman standing up, making a turn and walking toward the camera. As always, we planned on shooting the scene three times from one angle and then repeating from another angle and then cutting the two together in editing for a nice, smooth transition.
Because this production was considered a big deal at the agency I worked for, the boss came along to watch. Unfortunately, he was watching his personal schedule and plans for the evening more than he was the production. We did one take, and as I was setting up for the second shot of the same thing from the same angle, he took over and told me and the crew to set up for the shot from another angle.
I objected—I always shot a scene two or three times from each angle to have material “in the can” should we need it in editing—but the boss overruled me. “If there’s a problem, we’ll fix it in post,” he said and we broke down the equipment and set up for the next shot.
When the film was developed (this is old school) and we began editing, I discovered a serious problem. In the first take our spokesmen stepped out on his left foot. In the second setup he stepped out on his right foot. There was no way to cut the two shots together and have the shots match. We had to do it anyway because those were the only takes available. In other words, there was no way in hell to “fix it in post.” I listened and took bad advice and the product suffered for it.
Writers often get the equivalent treatment: you’ll fix it in the rewrite. I’ve read advice from so-called experts who seriously advise writers to write a sloppy first draft. Just slug out anything and you can clean it up later.
I don’t do later. My advice to any writer is to do the same.
I write from the heart, from the subconscious mind, and I write fast. I do not write sloppy and I certainly don’t write sloppy on purpose. I write a chapter (or chapters) and review it for any clean up before starting the next chapter. I “rewrite” only to editorial comment and then only if I agree with my editor and first readers. There is very little if any need to fix it in the rewrite.
Look at it this way. A professional will write to the best of his ability in everything he does, including any first draft. He always gives it his best shot.
If it’s your best shot, how can you improve on that? How can you recreate the emotion felt in your heart from a dispassionate reading the next day? How can you relight the “muse of fire” once the flame in your heart is cold?
If you’ve given it your best shot, just check for any necessary clean up. (I once had my cowhand hero get on a horse and get off from a mule. Sigh.) Do your tidying up and move on to the next chapter and give that your best shot.
Having to “fix it in post” just means you didn’t get it right in the first place.
Trust the Story to Unfold as it Should
The above guest post and an email from a writer converged at the right time. In her email, the writer said the current story she’s working on “is requiring a LOT of cycling.”
That wording set off alarm bells in my mind. If she is actually cycling through the story, meaning reading for pleasure and allowing her characters to touch it if necessary as she does so, good, and more power to her.
But “requires a lot of cycling” is negative—it sounds as if something in the story is wrong and needs to be fixed—and negativity is ALWAYS a product of the conscious, critical mind, never the creative subconscious. Hence the alarm bells.
So I gave her some unsolicited advice, just in case, and I thought I’d pass it along to you too, again, just in case you need it:
If your goal is to let go of all the critical voice stuff and just write into the dark, be careful you are cycling, not editing. Don’t allow your critical mind to be, well, critical. If you do, at one point or another you’ll feel that little sinking feeling in your gut, like you messed up and can’t go back to the original.
When the urge to “cycle a lot” (edit) overcomes you, either get up and walk away or at least save the file with a different filename before you start “correcting” things. It’s easy to do. Hit Save-As and simply add a letter or numeral to the end of the file name. That way the original will be untouched. (I recommend this from hard experience.)
Remember, when you cycle, you’re reading only as a reader, simply enjoying the story. NOT thinking about anything writing- or craft-related, and not looking-for anything. Just reading, but allowing your characters to touch it here and there (or not) as you read.
Trust your characters. Trust the story to unfold as it should. The story will turn out as it should only if you trust that it will.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Substack for Writers: Is It Worth Joining?” at https://makealivingwriting.com/substack-for-writers/. Not all about fiction writing, but important for some of you.
See “Special Guest Shares a Short Story” at https://www.suecoletta.com/the-neighbourhood-watch-by-sgc58/.
The Journal…………………………………… 1140
Total fiction words for May……… 14404
Total fiction words for 2023………… 97868
Total nonfiction words for May… 23280
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 104970
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 202838
Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.
8 thoughts on ““We’ll Fix It in Post(-Production)””
Requiring a lot of cycling may not necessarily be a bad thing. Yes, if it’s turning into revision or procrastination (i.e., tweaking words because you’re stuck somewhere else). Definitely pay attention for any negative thinking.
However, if the writer falls in the crowd where they need to think a lot about the story, the cycling can occur in many, many layers. This is how I get a lot of depth. It doesn’t come in for me on typing of the first words, or even the first or third cycling pass. It comes in a little at a time as I read through and work out my thought processes on the story with 20 or 30 cycling passes. I add a few words here, zoom back to add a detail I need for later in the story, on the spot research for another detail. I change very little of what’s already written, unless the story evolved to require a change (such as updating what the character’s wearing in the first chapter to make something else a lot more inconvenient later).
It does take longer, and I wish it was faster. But I’m enjoying the writing more for it.
Linda, as you well know, your comment is grounded firmly in the myths of writing. As such, it would be welcome in pretty much any other writers’ venue anywhere around the Internet. My regular readers can also subject themselves to those same myths in millions of other places.
For that reason, awhile back I decided not to allow any content that promotes the myth that the conscious, critical mind is a valid tool in writing fiction. It isn’t. Anyway, I chose to let your comment through as a learning point for my subscribers. It will be the last one.
Subscribers, do you hear the critical voice in “need to think a lot about the story” and “I read through and work out my thought processes” and “zoom back to add a detail I need for later in the story”?
If you’re only recording the story as it happens, how can you possibly know what you’ll “need” for later in the story? This is a seeming paradox, but it isn’t a difficult one to solve. You simply can’t have it both ways.
Please understand, I’m not being critical of Linda’s process. Her process is her process, and how and whether she writes or hovers doesn’t affect my own writing in the slightest. I’m being critical only of her seemingly intentional misrepresentation of the term “cycling.”
Fiction writers, if you “need to think a lot about the story” and “work out [your] thought processes,” you aren’t simply trusting the story to unfold and recording it as you run through the story with the characters.
And you aren’t simply reading over what you’ve written and allowing the characters to touch it as necessary. In other words, you aren’t letting go of control and simply conveying the authentic story your characters are experiencing.
You are practicing author intrusion, plain and simple. You are taking over the story. You are forcing your will on the story and on the characters within it.
Again, if that’s your chosen way to write, that’s perfectly fine. But I will not allow anyone to misrepresent a conscious, critical mind process as writing into the dark or cycling here at the Journal.
I know you won’t let this through, Harvey, but I’m disappointed in you. Your critical voice is showing. You got defensive when I suggested someone might have a slightly different way of cycling. Kris Rusch writes out of order, sometimes way out of order, then puts the story together. Her process is clearly different from Dean’s, so why can’t there be variations? (I wish we’d hear more about her processes, and not just Dean’s).
You could have asked further about my process. Instead, you assumed something that wasn’t there. My default is to write fairly thin and then flesh out details in multiple passes as my subconscious makes story connections with them. My brain also doesn’t come up with things in the right order as I write and often leaves things out. In fact, one of the things I ask when I get stuck is what am I missing from the setting? My subconscious nags at me when it needs another piece that I didn’t initially add. Isn’t that what cycling is for?
Dean’s also said it’s normal to run through ideas in your head about what you’re writing. I usually type up random notes for the next scene about what I could do, let it sit overnight, and then use none of it when I make first contact with the page. It’s like warming up my subconscious so it can have fun and help keep the critical voice out. What’s wrong with thinking about what you might write next and letting the subconscious play with it?
Shrug. I expect that you’ll still hear what you want to hear.
OF COURSE there are variations and different ways of writing. I didn’t say there weren’t, and I never said there even shouldn’t be.
Read what I actually wrote in my response to your comment. If you’re going to make conscious, critical-mind editing passes over what you’ve written, why not just say that? Why try to force the term “cycling” on it?
THIS VENUE, this tired, beat-up, weary little Journal, is maybe the only venue left where people can talk regularly about WITD and CYCLING, both of which are functions of the creative subconscious, period.
I understand neither the need nor the propensity of some people to attempt to drag the rest of us back to “creating” (CONSTRUCTING) with the conscious, critical mind. I certainly won’t go, and I won’t encourage my readers to go.
I don’t try to coerce or convince people to write into the dark. I explain what it is, and I urge them to try it because I know the freedom and exhilaration it affords.
Still, I know full well most of won’t even try it. Sweat beads break out on their forehead when they even think about breaking away from the safety nets of the myths.
And of those who do try it, most will be overcome with the unreasoning fear of failure and slip back into exactly what you’re doing. Isn’t it enough that most early writers and would-be writers are mired in the myths? What do you care that some of us have broken free of all that?
Finally, I didn’t ask further about your process because I didn’t need to. Once I read that you “need to think a lot about the story” and “read through and work out my thought processes,” it was plain that you were mired in the myths.
Besides, why would I care either way about your process, or allow you to promote it here, on my own Journal, when with my own NON-process I’ve written 73 novels, 9 novellas, and over 220 short stories in the past 6 years?
Oh, and before that, I wrote thousands of poems in several collections, one of which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and another of which was nominated for the National Book Award? Plus all the articles and essays. Plus 16 nonficton books, one of which placed 4th in BEA New York in the Education Category.
Bottom line, my Journal, my rules. In your own blog you can call making several critical-mind editing passes “cycling” if you want to. Your readers will soak it up, and I’m not rude enough to come there and criticize you.
Or you can post your comment on places like Kill Zone blog or almost any other venue in the Internet world, and it will be welcomed with open arms, even roundly applauded.
So I guess I just don’t understand why you want to post here. It isn’t like I have a large following. I’m effectively teaching fewer than 100 writers through this blog.
Anyway, there you go, I let your comment through. Happy? But please don’t bother responding again. I promise it won’t get through.
Hear the critical voice? It’s blazing in my ears. No offense to Linda but this type of thinking kept me back for decades.
Thank God I stopped “thinking about the story” otherwise I would have never finished it. Thanks to people like Harvey and Dean I just write and trust my creative voice to tell a good story.
Actually for the first time I finally understand WHY Ray Bradbury said: “Don’t Think! Relax! Write!”
As Ray said: “You’re supposed to be having FUN..and not to think about it…” Its only a 2 min video and the 1st 50 seconds he reveals the secret of how to write, its the same as how to live:
Thanks, George. It’s a difficult stretch for some folks to overcome all the garbage about writing with which we are constantly bombarded. Some make it, most don’t (they try, but fall succumb to the fear and fall back into the safety nets of the myths) and some fool themselves into believing a “hybrid” is possible. But it isn’t. You either let go (and then continue to practice letting go) or you retain your grip.
Thank you for the Bradbury link. I listen to it and was going wow I need to listen to this guy three times a day for a while. And that’s knowing how Bradbury felt about things. His passion, coupled with his production, makes him one of the greats. Thanks again for sharing.
Thanks, Loyd. Glad you got something out of it. Bradbury has always been among my favorites.
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