By Leslie Lindsay
Last week on “The Teacher is Talking” (Tuesday), I shared with you the wonderful new book Imagine: How Creativity Works (Jonah Lehrer, 2012). Well, if you read this book like a writer, you may actually gain a few insights into your own creativity. At least I did–specifically as I work through the tedious task of editing and revising my novel-in-progress. And here’s why, as explained by the author:
You need to become an outsider.
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (Mar 19, 2012)
(image retrieved from Amazon.com on 7.25.12)
But I wrote this! This is part of me!” you claim. And if you remember the good Tennessee Williams, “if the writing is good, you cannot seperate it from the author.” Yeah, I feel your pain. Trust me, I do. When one goes back to edit/revise he really needs to know nothing. This is the whole idea of reading the work as though you know nothing about it. This is what your agent/editor will do. They don’t know if the book is a big deal to you or parrots personal experiences. They just want to know if it makes sense, if it reads well (it’s written well), and if it will sell.
When the writer successfully separates from being the author and thus “turns himself into” a reader, he can see the flourishes that are unnecessary, can see the weak points, and the slow spots. So, here’s the deal–put the darn manuscript aside. In a “perfect world,” a writer should not look at the manuscript for a full year. (don’t panic…remember, it may take you a year or more to write it. Go back to those very beginning pages after a year, but keep writing to the end, if you want).
Okay, so say a year is just waaay too long to wait. How about 3 months? 1 month? Can you do that? If you do, I promise you will begin to see some parts of your work that you thought, “Humpf…what was I thinking here?!”
You need to swap heads with someone–a smart stranger who just happens to pick up your book at the local bookstore. Would they “get” what you were trying to convey?
(image retrieved from http://www.unicog.org/main/pages.php?page=people on 7.25.12)
Stanislas Dehaene,a neuroscientist at the College de France in Paris explains why it is so important to get some distance from your prose: the brain contains two distinct pathways for making sense of workds, each of which is activated in a different context. One pathway is know as the ventral route, and it is direct and efficient (most of our literary highway). The second reading pathway–known as the dorsal stream–is turned on whenever you’re forced to pay conscious attention to a sentence, perhaps because of a strange word, awkward subclause, or even bad handwriting.
So when you read your own work, your ventral system is at work. You wrote it, you read it, it all makes sense…it’s literary and automatic. You aren’t able to pay close attention to the work. But when you give yourself time to have your sentences forgotten, you look at it with new eyes (your dorsal stream).
Get your dorsal stream runnin’…and write (revise) on Wednesday!
More on Stanislas Dehaene, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislas_Dehaene
[This post was inspired by my own reading of Imagine: How Creativity Works. It is a book I own. No other compensation or acknowledgements are given. This blog is for information purposes only].
It really is difficult!! I have a great friend that is editing for me, and it is a difficult process that wounds my ego frequently!! ha ha I love your blog! 🙂 I think keeping my blog helps me to keep in the practice of writing, so that when I am ready to edit/write on my novel I can move into that easier… if that makes sense at all! ha ha
I agree, Aleah!! Keeping a blog keeps me honest about writing. Truly must be a daily practice of writing to get better and reach goals. But, it’s not always easy!
great topic! Thanks for the tips. I am in the editing phases of my novel right now and running into this very problem! ha ha Thank you for posting this!
Aleah! You are most welcome. Really glad the post “spoke” to you. I wish I could take my own advice…right now, feeling very glum about the whole thing. Writing is hard work!