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Know Jack #349 Both Sides

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, From win and lose and still somehow, It’s life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know life—At all.”

Joni Mitchell

Rather than repeat Hemingway’s advice to write drunk and edit sober, I picked Joni Mitchell’s song to illustrate a point—or maybe I should say viewpoints because two opposing views are needed to produce a good book. The view from within and the view from without. A look at the story from both sides is required, but anyone telling you they know all about it really doesn’t know writing at all.

As I suspect is true of most people, I have a favorite side. One view is not better than the other, they are just different.

I don’t know how others do it, but I tend to write from inside the story. I watch the story unfold through my characters, to see things with their eyes, I hear their voices and sometimes think their thoughts alongside them. The more I hold to the rational sense of writing, the less able I am to live it. It’s like writing drunk in that inhibition, deliberation, and the need to make sense of things is forgotten—for the moment anyway.

I think this is what people mean when they tell you to just write. That’s all well and good, except that, on its own, it will never do. Stories have to make some kind of sense, follow a timeline and have a certain cohesion.

That’s where the view from outside comes in. As nice as daydreaming your way to writing success might sound, cold water dashed in your face by a reader will make for better writing. Imagination will stitch together a monster and send a jolt of electricity through it bringing it to life. Examination will make sure it doesn’t fall to pieces when it gets off the slab.

What drunkenness does for flair; sobriety does for quality. Editing and revising are not as exciting as that wild rush of writing. However, a sober look at sales can make you giddy.

I’ve looked at writing from both sides now. From drunk and sober and still somehow, it’s writing’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know writing at all.


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