Michelle Medlock Adams
Last year, I had the privilege of speaking about being a writer at a large private school near Chicago. But before my talk, as an added bonus, I had lunch with a group of award-winning student authors ranging in age from 5 to 13. (These students had been chosen to represent their individual classroom as “the best of the best” and read their work in front of the entire school.) So, while I chatted with these gifted wordsmiths in between bites of cheese pizza, I asked them: “Which was harder for you—writing or editing your story?” As I expected, all but one said the editing process had been way harder. Then, the one who didn’t jump on the editing bandwagon said something I’ll never forget.
She very honestly admitted, “I had trouble with the writing process because I kept editing myself…”
That comment sparked a very interesting conversation about hats and one of my favorite books about writing, “Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life” by Robert Benson. In case you haven’t read it, Benson shares about the different hats he wears when crafting his amazing books. He sports a stylish beret when creating story. As he writes his “sloppy copy,” beret man is the guy in the chair. But once this first draft is safely recorded, he switches to his well-loved Yankees cap which he has lovingly named “Gamer”. He wears “Gamer” when editing. But Benson explains that bringing out “Gamer” too soon in the process can totally halt the creativity of “Beret man”—the artist.
That’s what had happened to the student who confessed she’d really struggled with the writing process.
“You switched hats too soon,” I told her, explaining Benson’s theory.
What about you? Are you self-editing (and sometimes self-loathing) as you write and create children’s stories? Are you constantly fixing grammar and spelling or rewriting sentences three and four times before continuing on? If so, I feel your pain. I occasionally stifle my own creativity because I can’t get my baseball “Gamer” cap off my head. It just won’t budge! And no matter how hard I try, I can’t create with “Gamer” calling the shots!
If you struggle with this premature switching of hats, here are three strategies you can implement to keep your beret safely in place as you create.
*Write fast, really fast. Don’t give yourself the chance to edit. Just get that story down on paper or in that computer, whatever your process.
*Switch gears, not hats. The moment you feel yourself slipping into the editing mode, switch gears completely. For example, if you’re writing a picture book in narrative and you start to slip into editor mode, stop writing narrative and try writing your picture book in rhyme. That will get your creative juices flowing again and put your editor’s cap back on the hat rack.
*Set the Mood with Music. This works well for me. If I’m creating, I have on “mood music” that awakens the creative part of me. So, when I was writing my book, “Get Your Spirit On! Devotions for Cheerleaders” I listened to all of the cheer music compilations that my daughters competed to when they cheered. That music was motivating and put me in the right mindset to write about “all things cheerleading.” But, when I am editing, I almost always listen to instrumental music. When the instrumental melodies fill my writing room, it instantly becomes my editing room. Maybe this tactic will work for you, too!
If you’re like the little girl who struggled with knowing which hat to wear—the beret or the Gamer—I hope you’ll try these three strategies. And I recommend you purchase your own copy of “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” and glean from Benson’s genius.