One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2013

There are two sayings which have the distinction of being accurate while also being contradictory:

Many hands make light work.


Too many cooks spoil the broth.

These two sayings apply quite well to a debate among writers that has probably raged since written language was first created.  The debate centers on whether or not a writer should discuss his or her work while it’s still in the creation phase.

The Many hands make light work” advocates believe discussing your work with your fellow writers is a good thing because you can air your ideas, brainstorm solutions to plot snags, flesh out characters, and gain the benefit of any particular expertise that a writer friend might have.  Let’s say this goes on at the meeting of a writer’s group.  In a perfect world, every member leaves the meeting with the satisfaction of having contributed some useful feedback along with having received his or her share of the wealth.

As we know, this is not a perfect world, no matter how many times we re-envision it and try like hell to edit parts of it.

Writers who believe “Too many cooks spoil the broth” say so because they are concerned about losing that initial excitement, that pressure to create, which comes upon us when we get hit with a hot idea.  Another potential hazard arises in the perils that attend anything created by committee.  Once again we have the writer’s group model, only this time things are a bit more contentious.  Conflicting plot suggestions, arguments about motivations, and the pros and cons of several potential settings can lead to confusion, dissension, and dissatisfaction.  The writer with the shiny new idea loses his or her enthusiasm after the process of analysis and dissection dissipates that first jolt of excitement.

As always, it depends on the writer, the writer’s personal writing process, and where he or she is in that process.  Speaking for myself, I find that talking about longer projects is helpful.  When I’m looking at four hundred pages full of sex, violence, and historical intrigue, there’s a lot to talk about and several approaches to consider.  Re the Japanese novel, I’m fortunate in that I know at least four people who speak Japanese, a good dozen who study, make, and use swords including the katana, costumers who can help me with the details of kimono and yukata, and of course more experienced writers who know about plot structure and character arcs.

Short stories I take on a case by case basis.  Some come with a lightning flash of inspiration that demands sudden intense work all by myself.  Other stories, especially those with broader scope and meaning, may require some consultation and discussion.

One essential rule of thumb:  Don’t let the talking take the place of the actual writing.  The best ideas in the world mean nothing if we don’t lay those words down one after the other.

What do you folks think about this ongoing debate?  Are you in favor of hands or against cooks?  😀

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Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

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