Writing Lessons

Writing Without Worry

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By Jill McCorkle


 

The best advice I ever received about writing came from the novelist George Garrett when he visited my graduate writing workshop. He said that when we sat down to write, we needed to clear the room of ghosts. Whoever comes and stands behind you, breathing on your neck, judging and editing and saying things like It never happened that way, Where did you learn such bad language? Who do you think you are, anyway? Whoever that person may be: teacher, preacher, spouse, friend, foe, get them out of your space. Get out! I have found that by clearing out the ghosts, I am less likely to censor and edit my thoughts too soon. That first draft should bring with it all the freedom in the world. In fact, I always remind myself before sitting down to work that if I don’t like what I do that day, I can just walk right out in the back yard and strike a match; no one will ever know what I did. The first draft is all about freedom and if loyalty is in question, it is only my loyalty to the characters and situations on the page. All the worries about where the material may have sprung from or what so-and-so might think can be dealt with later. Those editorial changes are usually quite simple once you have lassoed the emotional truth of what you are trying to tell. And for me, the emotional truth is what it’s all about.

Jill McCorkle is the author of six novels and three short-story collections. She teaches creative writing at North Carolina State University. Her sixth novel, Life After Life, was recently published in paperback.

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