Just Write Isn’t Always Just Right by Kate DeHart

Most writing advice sources will tell you to “just write”. Well, that advice has turned out not to be just right for me.

Even writing not to “just write” seems controversial. So I figure I better explain myself and my process of getting words on the page.

Most of my stories start with a simple conversation. I just hear characters’ words in my head. Usually I don’t know who they are, or where they came from. It’s just an exchange, usually one that’s emotional or dramatic. Then as this conversation progresses, I start to envision people. I get a sense of who they are, what they look like, and their speech patterns. They link in my head to a mash up of someone I’ve seen before.

Then, I rehearse. I know, it’s writing isn’r theater or show business. But in order for this to make it to the page and not escape my head, I need to live it, to feel the words that these characters so deeply do.

Sometimes at this point, once I have the dialog somewhat memorized, I write down the gist of their scene.

Before I go much farther than this, I need to figure out who these people are, and what their story is. Things happened before this to drive them, and things about them inform their actions in this moment. They have to have a conflict, faults, and a passion that makes them worthy of the page. So I create, usually late at night when the house is quiet and my brain is on overdrive.

At this point, usually I’m desperate- excited to dive into the deep end of writing and immerse myself in these peoples’ world. They talk in my head constantly, and I can’t get them out until I either drown their voice, or engage in their world by getting all of it down.

You would expect that with all that passion, it would just flow easily and melodically on the page, right? Well, I expected that at least when I first started. And I often forget, I just don’t write that way. My absolute best chapters(or so I’m told) begin with the original exchange of dialog. Because having a conversation with a bunch of stops for detail, for me tend to sound like jilted dialog. The words need to be smooth, to flow like two people conversing- and sometimes more- like they do in good conversation in real life.

Then when that’s set, with bits of details and descriptions that easily come to me thrown in, I go back to the beginning and read again. And add things to clarify, to make the scene richer and easier to read. And then guess what I do again? I read. And read again. And again. See a pattern here? It’s like a sculpture for me. I adjust tiny amounts, bit by bit, as the scene shapes in to what I’ve envisioned.

Now, sometimes I feel like I’m not writing correctly, because there are so many times I try to just sit and write, and what comes out never feels natural to me. I’ve scrapped almost ever bit of writing I’ve ever tried to do this way. I need a vision, a little movie in my head that I’ve played on loop over and over until I know it like my eyes staring back in the mirror.

Funnily enough, I watch my favorite shows this way and always have. I’ve read my favorite books this way too. Multiple times living through the characters until I can envision myself in a world where they really exist.

So my advice wouldn’t be to always “just write”. But more always daydream, always create, always envision, and always get those words down when they’re so loud you can’t wait to get them out. Because I know I never want to drown out passionate words and forget they exist.


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