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Sunday, October 23, 2011

“What I've learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there's the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, "Well, that's not very interesting, is it?" And there's the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there's William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant . . .” —Anne Lamott

Have you ever listened to the voices in your head? Not the characters. If you write stories if goes without saying you listen to your characters. But those other voices, that committee in your head that offers opinions on pretty much everything you think or write about.

I heard someone once describe that committee as the seven dwarves. There was a television sitcom a number of years ago that was mostly made up of the aspects of the main character’s personality, all weighing in on the events of his day. Stephen King referred to his Muse, or possibly his council of Muses, as ‘the boys in the basement.’ If his Muse is a group of rough guys hanging out in a basement, what must the rest of his committee look like? When you are writing and you think “this stinks. I should delete the whole thing”, assign that voice to one of your committee members, possibly the critic, who never has anything good to say about your writing or anyone else’s (unless he’s comparing your atrocious scribbles to someone else, because even though they stink, they don’t stink as bad as you do).

Then there’s the voice that tells you to put a comma here, break the paragraph there, stop and pick a better word. That’s the editor, and his job is useful, but he has to be made aware of his boundaries because he often thinks he has more authority than he does. He and the Muse often can’t work together without arguing, at which point the writing grinds to a halt.

There may be other voices, too, like Anne Lamott’s Reader Lady. Or maybe your mother pipes up now and then when you write a particularly graphic scene of some sort, cautioning you to mind your manners.

Pay attention to the voices that speak up while you’re writing, and if necessary, call a meeting and hand out pink slips to a few. To those you keep on, make sure they’re aware of their boundaries. Make them work for you, not against you.

Who is on your committee?

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