Friday, October 23, 2020

Editing-Writing-Storyboard Dance--When to Do Each One to Create the Best Book

One of my past clients has been working hard on her memoir. She emailed me a few weeks ago with a good question about the best rhythm for book writers who are in revision. How do you know what's needed next--more editing, more writing, or the long view of a storyboard or charts? What are the signs that it's time for each of these all-important tasks?

I call it a dance. Ideally, there's a predictable flow between each activity, with markers along the way to tell you when to change partners.

Writing has the quality of exploration, of filling in gaps, of finding out new depths to your book. Those who like to move fast, who feel impatient with lingering (think descriptions that you skip when reading), may not write enough. Or their writing may be action based, always needing something happening. When it comes time to grasp this dance partner's hand, it forces the writer to slow down and go deep. The feeling or image brain gets involved, rather than the linear one.

Editing is almost 100 percent linear. It uses the part of us that analyzes and judges. To edit well, we need distance from the story--many writers give themselves breaks between writing those early drafts and going back in to edit them to a shine. Why? Because if you're too tired up in the story, what you intend, what really happened, you'll have trouble getting the distance needed to judge cleanly. You'll be prejudiced towards what you like, rather than what the story (or reader) needs.

Storyboarding falls somewhere between the two. It's both an exploration tool and a refinement tool, used differently at different times of the book's progress. I usually storyboard three times in the life of a book: once to brainstorm the story, once after I've drafted about 30,000 words (one third of the normal book length) to see what I still need to fill in and if the book's gone in a different direction I like better, and a final time during revision. The early storyboarding efforts (first and second time) are about exploring, similar to writing. They help you get ideas and find where you're selling your story short or lingering too long. The final storyboard is about judging what you have: is it traveling in a clear, clean direction?

So, depending on what you most need, you pick the task that fits.

It's good to say a few words about transitions in the writing process, at this point. Not a topic much discussed in writing classes, but so important to staying in the dance.

When I get stalled out, confused about my next step, I take a break. I'm entering a transition or new part of the journey--that's what the confusion is often about--and I don't know the dance steps yet. I like to go back to my original purpose for writing the book, to clarify them.

I'll set a timer and give myself a 20 minute freewrite assignment: Why am I writing this book? What do I hope to impart to the reader? Who is my reader, exactly? What's the larger meaning behind this story?

Lots of times this clarifies for me the particular task I need to tackle next. If I've strayed too far from my original intent (Why am I writing this book?), I know that writing might be needed. I need to write more to relocate that intent in the story itself. Maybe it's a theme that's been left behind by the action. Maybe it's a meaning I've become too shy to bring out fully. If I'm clueless about my reader and what I'm trying to communicate, that usually signals a need for editing. The story has become for me alone, not for the reader, and I have to examine the scenes and possibly the storyboard to find out how to bring the reader back into the conversation. If I can't find the larger meaning, that points to all three tasks.

Perhaps this will be helpful to my client with the good question, or to you.

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