A Reason To Write Badly: The Watcher At The Gate

watcherOn January 9 1977, Gail Godwin published a fascinating article in the New York Times entitled ‘The Watcher At The Gate‘. It was well written, to the point, and absolutely eye opening for me.

The Watcher at the Gate is your inner critic – the one who speaks up as you start to get an influx of ideas, who forces you to go back and revise what you’ve just written a paragraph ago and make little changes … or even rip the entire page out. I do this all the time, especially when I’ve been rusty and haven’t worked on a manuscript in ages.

Are my characters properly expressed? Are the actions snappy enough? Is the pace too slow? Too fast? What is the name of that Scandivanian flower that is so integral to my plot? I can’t possibly continue writing without first finding that out!

Gail talks about how important it is to silence the Watcher and let the words pour out of the Gate in one messy, convoluted pile. Only then should we unleash our Watchers, picking through the debris and correcting this detail here, that detail there …

Put simply: we should write badly. The correction and polishing should be done only after we’ve spat out that furball of ideas and dialogue and themes, to prevent us from limiting our creativity. Need to verify a fact? Do that after you finish the chapter/section/book.

plastic angelsIt’s a lot easier to implement this for manuscripts hidden under stacks of books and bottles of ink, only to be sent off to an agent in a year (or four). But how about blooking? I found myself constantly making corrections as I typed out each chapter of Janus, reading through at least once before hitting the publish button. But I still don’t feel comfortable with the work – most books headed for a traditional publishing house took a year to edit to acheive such a sheen.

So what is the answer?

It depends on the focus of your blook. If you intend to use blooks as a method of writing your next novel it’ll give you the best of both worlds – you silence your Watcher by setting deadlines and posting up chapters in weekly time frames (Shut up, you! There’s no time left!). Editing only comes when you’re about to submit to an agent, which is really wonderful – even if it takes you up to a year to be positively happy with it.

However, if you’re intending to publish a high quality blook for readers to savour things might start to get a tad tricky. You’ll need a buffer of a few chapters in order to do proper editing, and this can be a tough balancing act.

It’ll be interesting, though. A real adventure. Who knows what ‘sunspots’ will pop up in your prose? What weird directions your blook will float into?

And that is, to me, the beauty of this medium.

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Category: Learning To Write
  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ CrazyDreamer

    I’m not sure that I entirely agree with this one. I am an edit monkey–I edit and redraft everything umpteen billion times–but I lose track of and forget things so easily that I can’t set an improvement aside for later for fear that I’d forget it. (I could make a note to deal with it later, but a note specific enough to remind me exactly what needed doing where can take longer to write and be more distracting than making the improvement; no gain there.)

    Besides, if I’m looking up, say, the name of a flower, while I’m at it I’ll read up on the flower’s symbolism etc. and often find that I can improve what comes next in my story. This is far quicker to do if it doesn’t require revising chunks of text, just tweaking what I’m about to write in my head.

    Also, I wish that these comments had a “preview” function; it’s hard to draft them properly in this little box.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I found most of what Gail wrote to be true, at least for myself. When I’m writing a blog post I force myself to go on, and I never allow my eyes to stray to the introduction, no matter how horrible it is. I find that if I do my purpose is just blown out, and I don’t have the heart to go on.

    On the commnets: I’ll look for a solution … but I’m afraid I’m terribly busy with real life academia at the moment. It’ll be on my to-do list, no worries.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    I’m sure this is an area where people need to find a method that works for them; it’s not a “one size fits all” thing.

    Y’know, if I’m going to mutter about the lack of comments preview, I really ought to fix it on my own site. Ah, well; it will go on the list.

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