I must confess: I have a BA in English Literature. Hence why I make a lot of references to classical works, some I loved, some I couldn’t stand. Therefore, be warned!

I’ve always been a fan of William Blake (his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Innocence and Experience were truly brilliant, go check out copies of his prints since he didn’t intend for his poetry to be read without them). Anyway, this got me thinking about writing and editing, specifically the difference between a beginning writer with raw talent vs. a well-seasoned veteran, professional writer. This is not to say that the veteran doesn’t have talent either, just making the difference between a beginner and an expert in this case.

Thus, a beginner will be labeled “Innocence” for the sake of my silly analogy with Blake and “Experience” will be the label for those masters of the writing craft.

Innocence

Innocence is like raw energy. It’s great because you can create anything with it, but it’s unfinished and unstable. I feel as if this is the stage where you brainstorm like crazy and write without any set destination. You may not have an outline or any clear idea of where you’re going with a project but you’re full of energy and happy to write about whatever pops into your head. This is the feeling I get with NaNoWriMo (I think a lot of writers there are in this mode). Perhaps you also pick up and then drop projects all the time, moving about and working on whatever holds your attention. You may have a bunch of incomplete chapters, perhaps even just a sentence of an idea for a story that you may never look at again.

Experience

Experience, being grown up and professional, is that raw energy harnessed in a particular direction. It isn’t quite as explosively creative but rather the force is much stronger towards a particular goal. Instead of a hundred projects, you are working on three. Instead of losing interest, you put more energy into your given project and make yourself interested in the subject (otherwise you don’t even bother with it). You may have an outline, and a journal of ideas for that particular project, and note cards to keep track of scenes, characters, motivations, backstory, relationships, and details about your world. You may already be in the editing stage, where you are fine-tuning the story you have already completed, or working on a sequel to another story that is already complete.

I thought of these two distinctions because I am now somewhere in the middle of these two stages (the teenage years? The innocently experienced?) where I am finally completing my projects and purposefully leaving aside ideas that I am not as interested in (I have a notebook specifically for needling ideas that I want to get out of my head without necessarily wasting energy writing five pages for it). I don’t think I’ll ever write another story that doesn’t have an outline prepared, except if I’m experimenting with a short story (and only if I have at least an idea of where I want to go with it). I know not all writers do that, but I need the structure of an outline and rich details of the world I’m creating in order to feel comfortable writing about it. Everyone has a different method but I like to do this especially because my plots tend to be complex, involved, and events later in the book become possible only through actions performed earlier in the book.

I see these two themes (Innocence and Experience) not as single destinations but rather as a range where everyone falls somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning heavily to one side or the other.

Advertisements