That Critical Inner Voice’s Three Big Mistakes
There are three things that that critical voice gets very, very wrong. Three big mistakes it makes. The first mistake it makes is when it says, "I have your best interest at heart. "I'm really trying to protect you." Now, it's right about that, it really is trying to protect you. The problem is, it's protecting you from the wrong thing, because what it thinks is, it saw what happened back there in the ninth grade, it knows about the pain if you're gonna show what you wrote, and again, to write anything means you're gonna be vulnerable. You're gonna write about something that you really care about, you're gonna put work into it, and then you're gonna put it out into the world where people might not like it, that might happen and that would hurt, and it wants to keep you safe. It wants to keep you out of pain, so it's sort of like doing a preemptive strike, right? "I'm not gonna let you take that risk because, "oh my god, look what might happen." The problem is, is that what it doesn't u...
nderstand is that in order to be a writer at all, you have to take that risk and you have to be vulnerable because that's what stories are about. They're about opening up and showing us those things that we really would rather keep under wraps because we don't know if other people are going to like us because of them, or even at some point use it against us. In other words, you have to be vulnerable to be a writer. That is the whole point. What makes you a writer is having the courage to be vulnerable. The second mistake that it makes, the second mistake it makes when it tries to stop you is what it expects that first page to look like. What it expects is, it's gonna read your first page, and then it's gonna compare it to the first page of all those finished novels that it knows you love 'cause it's been reading that over your shoulder as well, and it knows that for sure, that those first few pages you wrote are not going to look like the first pages of a finished novel. What it doesn't understand is that those first few pages should never look like the first few pages of a finished novel. I mean, at least not maybe until the 50th iteration of them. The last thing you wanna do is mimic the polished pros of a finished book, what you wanna do is really be sure that you have the layers, the elements of story there in order to really grab and hook and hold the reader. It has nothing to do with writing beautifully, but of course, this is a mistake that we make as well because, you know, as writers, we do the same thing. You write something and you re-read it, and then you look at whatever book you're reading and you look at the first page, and you go, "Oh my god, no. "I'll never be like that, "I'm not gonna be a writer. "I'll take up, you know, like, "crocheting or something." Not that there's anything wrong with crocheting, mind you, but still, you wanna keep writing. The thing that the voice has right is that those three pages are really crucial, they are important. They have to immediately hook the reader, and then instill that sense of urgency that makes them not just want to know what happens next, but biologically have to know what happens next and care enough to read forward, and that's really hard. It is really hard, and it's why there are lots of classes on how to write the first three pages. I think there's even a book on how to write your first five pages, and it's why you'll never see a class on how to nail page to 151. Like, you never see that class. But, you know, if you don't nail your first three pages, no one's gonna get to page 148 to 151. The third mistake that that voice therefore makes is what it thinks will hook readers is wrong, because since it's read all of those beautifully written books, what it thinks is gonna hook readers is beautiful writing. And so, its advice to you is always learn to write your pros better. Become a better wordsmith, dive in. That's what defines you as a writer, is your ability to write, so what you should spend your time on is learning writing technique, writing craft. The truth is, is that beautiful writing is not what hooks readers. As I'm very fond of saying, the brain is far less picky about beautiful writing than we have been led to believe. What hooks readers is the story's elements we're talking about that give meaning and beauty to the writing. And again, at the end of the day, if you can meet all of these six elements, it doesn't matter how beautiful the writing is. The truth is, the story polishes the pros anyway. But, there's another reason why the last thing you want is the first, oh, I don't know, 50 iterations of those first three pages to be beautifully written and polished. And that is because they are the pages that you will be re-writing more than any other in your novel. And the reason is because the seeds of everything that will happen are planted in the first few pages of your novel. They are planted there, and you know how it is. You're writing forward and you get, like, down to page, I don't know, 50 or 60, and you go, "Whoa, that character is more important "than I thought, there's a lot of stuff I need "to know about that character. "That storyline, that's really gonna play through, "that's important, I gotta go back "and I gotta plant it right there in the first page." So, if you've really polished it, the analogy I like to use is the analogy of getting a car waxed. And you know, like, you go to the car wash and they say with a standard, you know, cheapo wash, they're gonna wax their car, and they maybe put one layer of wax on. I don't think the guy even uses wax, I think he spits on the rag and that's it, and like, spit-shine, "There you go, you're done." But, we're not talking about that kinda polish. We're talking about the expensive one. You know the one, I forget what they call it, but it's got, like, 25 layers of wax and it's buffed so shiny that anybody near your car has to wear sunglasses, even at night, or the glare is gonna blind them. That's how shiny it is. So, imagine now that that is a metaphor for how polished your pros are in the first few pages, and you come in now, you got a seed that you gotta plant, and what, you're gonna mar that shine? How are you gonna get through those 25 layers of wax? You're gonna break it up, you wanna do that? What happens is, when you polish it too soon or even at all, 'cause I firmly believe the story polishes the pros, when you polish it too soon, it's not like you're locking the story in, you're actually locking the story out, and thus, locking the reader out. So, what we're going to be talking about here are, it's not beautiful writing, but are the six elements of story that the first three pages need to convey in order to first hook, and then hold your reader. Now, to be very clear, it's not like you inherently need three pages to do this. The truth is, there are novels that can do it in the first paragraph. There are novels that might take four pages. It's not about exactly three pages, per se. But, this is what hooks and then holds the reader, that is what we're going to be talking about and, just one thing less that you think that I'm a hypocrite. (laughs) To do this, we are gonna use examples from already-published novels. Now, these are debut novels, but that's sort of isn't the point. What we're gonna do is, we're gonna look at what on these novels actually pulls us in. How are these elements actually there on these pages? And in some cases, we're gonna pull away the beautiful writing, go, "Don't pay attention to that," because you will be just as pulled in without that as you are with it. And this might help as well because one of the things I'm sure that you guys as writers have heard, 'cause you always hear this, it's like, "If you wanna learn to write, "read good books." Don't do that. Now, I don't mean don't read good books, 'cause of course you wanna do that, but it will not teach you how to write. The reason is because the first job of an effective story is to anesthetize the part of your brain that knows it is a story. You're walking around in this 360-degree sense of reality. The last thing you can do or wanna do is figure out how the writer has created that illusion, which is what makes us tend to think it's about beautiful writing and the plot, and it's really neither of those things. But, if you can look for these elements and hold yourself above, which is really hard not to let yourself get sucked into the story and that feeling, and now you're just off and running, but if you can stay above it and look for these elements, it might really show you that, as a matter of fact, it's not the beautiful writing that's hooking you. It's not the plot that's hooking you. It's these elements that are pulling you in that put together, create a story, and create that sense of urgency. So, that is what we're going to do, but before we do that, I would like you to get out your mental duct tape. This is something you should carry with you at all times. It's free and it takes up no space. We should all carry mental duct tape, and I want you to take out that mental duct tape, and I want you to take that voice in your head, the one that sounds like your ninth grade English teacher, and I want you to put it in a chair, and then I want you to duct tape it to the chair, and then I want you to turn the chair to the wall and I want you to say, "Shh, don't talk. "We're not talking about writing technique here. "We're not talking about writing methodology "or anything to do with writing, shh." You don't wanna hurt its feelings too much, so you can say, "Listen. "When I'm finally done and I've got that polished draft "that I'm sending to my last group of beta readers "before it goes out into the world, "then I will turn you around "and you can hit me with your best shot. "Whatever you wanna say, I will be all ears. "But, until such time is that, "shh, don't talk." It's kind of like what we wish we could've said to our ninth grade English teacher back in the day, or maybe that was just me, I don't know.