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It sounded better in my head: the reality of writing

It sounded better in my head: the gap between reality and perfection when writing fictionOn Saturday, Mr12 and I went to the Blue Mountains with his friend Mr13 and Mr13’s mum. It’s a six-hour round trip, which meant the four of us spent a lot of time together in a small car. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent six hours in a small car with two tween boys, but it’s an educational experience if you tune in and listen…

On the way home, Mr12 told us a convoluted anecdote which built and built, until we were all waiting, with bated breath, for the punchline. When it arrived, delivered with much gusto, there was dead silence, before Mr13 asked, in that blunt way that only boys can, “Seriously? Is that it? That’s where you’re going to end that?”

Mr12 thought about that, then chuckled. “It sounded much better in my head,” he said, at which point we all laughed raucously.

It reminded me, however, of one of the biggest challenges of being a writer – that gap between the idea that you have and the reality of how that idea comes out on the page.

I’ve spent the last week wrangling words as I work through the structural edit of the first book in my new series. I’m trying to tweak them – wrestle them – into being the book that I know that they can be.

The book in my head is perfect. It is bright and shiny and ringing with inspiration and brilliance.

My publisher tells me that the book on my computer is fantastic, and the changes we are making will make it even better. But for me it will never, ever meet that bright, shiny brilliance of my initial inspiration, simply because it can’t. To do so, it would need to be perfect, and I’m pretty sure that no-one has ever written a perfect book. Ask any writer. There’s always something they’d change.

So what I’m trying to do, what I think every writer tries to do, is to close the gap as much as possible between what it sounds like in my head and what it looks like on the page. Trying to get it as close to perfection as I can.

And then letting go.

Having paid particular attention to that punchline…

8 Comments

  • Oh yes! This rings so true! And I guess, with the gulf between head and page, I sometimes feel paralyzed and nothing gets written at all. Over time, and hearing that so many others, especially published writers, have the same experience, and that they have learnt to bridge that gap, means that I can take – in fact have taken – courage to actually put pen to paper.

    I like that your editor for your structural edit is so encouraging. I think anyone needs heaps of encouragement to keep going. The gulf of no-one there to give feedback is one of the biggest hurdles for a beginner writer. I think though, I am learning, by reading what others do, to give my work shape.

    One of the biggest accomplishments is culling, shaping, attempting ‘final’ edits, and so on until I am ready to let someone else have a read. Taking the text as far as I can before letting it go is so important. That initial teeny bit of confidence in knowing that is the best I can get the work to, and then letting someone else read it is vital. Only then will I have the courage and ‘togetherness’ with what I’ve written, to withstand any advice that would have me alter my work. Do others feel this precious about their work, I wonder? I can only guess that they do.

    So, bridging the gap between that perfect production that is in my head, and getting the story down and into a degree of ‘polished’ finish is actually only a first, though vital, step in the whole process. I look forward to learning the next step – and the next.

    • Hi Susan, you raise some interesting points here. Learning to let go is a really important part of being a professional writer. But everyone feels the same way about that gap. This video, based on an interview with Ira Glass, says it better than I can: https://vimeo.com/24715531 Good luck! A

  • That’s actually part of my branding. “I Tell Stories. They Sound Like Thrillers In My Head.”

    My big issue is that I start planning something in my head, and writing the scene there, and getting this beautiful action-filled chase or fight or whatever planned out. Then I go to put it on paper or in electrons and think, “That’s so unrealistic. That kind of stuff wouldn’t happen in real life.” And so I start editing the excitement out and I get this bland kind of mush.

    But I’m working on that. Glad to hear I’m not alone.

  • I can’t count the times I’ve wished I have a thought recorder in my brain so I can transcribe word for word my ideas and stories. Maybe, that is how we will write in 2169?

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