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Friday, December 12, 2008

Put Your Best Stuff Up Front

When I coach writing, we do a lot of examination of first drafts to make them better. An exchange might go something like this:

Writer: I want to put this scene a bit further back.

Me: Why? It's great where it is!

Writer: Well, it's a flashy scene...

Me: Yes, that's why it's great. You've really developed your action well, and the characters move also. And it fits with this stage of the story.

Writer: But if this comes up front, will the reader feel like there should be more scenes like this one?

Or a variant of this conversation thereof.


My advice is always, always, put your best stuff up front. Don't hold anything in reserve.

The writer often feels (even if not articulated) that he or she isn't capable of writing at this high level of quality throughout the whole manuscript. And in a sense this may be true, but there is a wonderful technique called cutting and pasting that's so easy. Simply go through your manuscript and cut the bad stuff, put all the good stuff end to end, then fill in the holes.

To fill in the holes?

The bigger hurdle for the writer often is the sense of inadequacy: I was lucky with this one scene, but I CAN'T do this again!

Yes you can. Have faith in yourself. If you use up all of your good stuff, you're going to HAVE to come up with something else, something just as good. And you will. Many studies have shown that the best way to become skilled in an area is, surprise, doing it. So keep writing, even if it stinks, and when something's good, copy it and paste it in your end-to-end file. You'll be amazed at how this file begins to grow into a gripping story.

Put your best stuff up front, and then trust that you can produce more. And you know what? You will!


Billy Coffey said...

I have to admit I'm guilty of this too, and for the very reason you mentioned--inadequacy. Thanks for the advice!

Anonymous said...

GREAT post, Amy. The advice is helpful and yes, we need to remember to have faith.

What I rest in, besides God, is that wonderful delete button, cut and paste button, etc.

I can always changes things, move them around and revise to make scenes following that great opener better.

Thanks for this

Travis said...

I like this advise because it will make you work harder to match your best effort. I think it's a good method to make us strive for excellence.

Anonymous said...

That's just confirmation! Last night, I moved Chapter 8 to the beginning of my MS because of this exact thing. I needed a stronger beginning and I needed a clearer picture of my protag in the beginning. Thanks, Amy!

-- Sarah Salter

Avily Jerome said...

Great advice, Amy! Thanks!
I think writing a REALLY great scene has yet to come for me. I have some good ones but I'm still working toward greatness.

gzusfreek said...

I too suffer from the disease of inadequacy but I tell you what, it makes me feel good I am not alone. I see BCoffey and AJerome and I have read great stuff from each of them. . .the disease of inadequacy must be a human bug.
I'm thankful for your blog, Amy. I am learning so much on this wonderful new journey!
My problem is each new chapter I write I think is better than the last so I keep saying "Throw out that other stuff and lets start the story here!" thus I'm not accumulating much. Just a couple of days ago I started to reconsider 10 chapters I previously decided to cut.
Thank you, Amy!