Is the Right Writer Writing? – Guest post by Katherine Britton

We met Katherine at the Vermont Bookstock Festival where fellow Live-to-Writers Lisa, Deb and I spoke on a blogging panel. Katherine has already published two books and is currently working on a third. When she asked if we would let her do a guest post on Live to Write, Write to Live, there was nothing for us to say except “Yes. By all means, Yes!”


Is the Right Writer Writing?

By Katharine Britton

I tell people it took me between two and fifty years to write my first book. The manuscript itself took two years, but I’d been gathering stories and getting to know my characters (the book was inspired by my mother and her sisters) for most of my life. What might it take to drive sisters apart, I mused, as I listened for years my mother talk about her childhood on the South Shore of Boston, in a weather-shingled house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And what might it take to bring them back together? Her Sister’s Shadow was published in 2011.
blog2Then it was time to write another manuscript. What, I wondered, as I sat, fingers tensed, staring at a blank computer screen, could I write about? “You’ve used up every one of your good stories,” I heard myself say. “You’ve exploited every single foible a character could possibly possess and exhausted every topic of interest to anyone. (And all the good lines, too.) And, by the way, you don’t have another fifty years to come up with more.”


My fingers began to cramp; the page remained blank. “It was all a big mistake, that first novel. Eventually someone will figure that out. Not a chance you can write another one.”
Who Asked You, Anyway?
This wasn’t writer’s b–ck (that which must not be named). It was that the wrong writer was trying to write the first draft. Every author needs an internal editor. This persona is as important to subsequent drafts as a copy editor is to the final one. Just don’t let her “help” with the first draft. They say that writing is revising. But first you’ve got to get something down on paper. It’s a bitch to revise a blank page.
Have Fun for Heaven’s Sake
For the first draft, you need to employ your generative side. Invite your kid-self to climb up on your lap and bang away at the keys. Give her plain white paper and colored markers and watch her mind-map her way to a plot. Supply her with colored index cards and see how quickly scenes present themselves. (Pink for romance, green for adventure, blue for drama. Why not?)



Strew your desktop and office with toys, open the windows and listen to birds, take her for a walk down a city street or out into nature (maybe in the rain, why not!) and see what she sees, take her out for ice cream or to a movie, and listen to what she hears. Let her mind roam free. Start transcribing.

Later you will be grateful when that voice says, “That “fabulous” metaphor that you forced into a sentence on page 212, and then shaped into that really awkward scene? Take it out. It doesn’t work. Yes, the whole thing. Out. It. Doesn’t. Work. (Any more than Aunt Betty’s old armoire belongs in the dining room, where it’s blocking half of one window, by the way. Get rid of that, too, while you’re at it.”)
But for now, ignore her. Instead, sail blissfully through your first draft, your mind as open as a summer day. Be a kid, have fun. There’ll be plenty of time to grow up later.
Katharine Britton’s second novel, Little Island, came out in 2013. She is having fun with her third.


IMG_0014Katharine Britton is the author of two novels, HER SISTER’S SHADOW and LITTLE ISLAND (Berkley Books, Penguin, USA). She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and a Master’s in Education from the University of Vermont, and has taught at the Writer’s Center, Colby Sawyer College, and the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth. She was a Moondance Film Festival winner and a finalist in the New England Women in Film and Television contest. She writes reviews for the New York Journal of Books.

23 thoughts on “Is the Right Writer Writing? – Guest post by Katherine Britton

  1. Love this post! It’s such an important thing, to let the mind roam free without letting your internal editor get in the way. Thanks for the tips on finding inspiration 🙂

  2. Awesome advice! I love it and can definitely use these tips in my personal writing and in professional work. It’s easier to rein in a crazy idea than invigorate a dull one.

  3. Great advice! I find that once I start writing something – anything – nine times out of ten I’ll start to get on a roll and things will begin to flow from there, even if the first few paragraphs were rubbish.

  4. What interesting thoughts! I have a very strong editorial side that likes to nag when I am writing a first draft. It stinks! But I love when I let myself fly across the page!

  5. Good point, Jessuca Everingham. Sometimes a writer needs to treat those first few paragraphs like warm-ups. Happily we are no longer carving our work on stone tablets. (I wonder if those guys did first drafts?)

  6. Jessica, “Nag” is the right word for that internal editor’s tone. Not only does mine denigrate what I’m writing, she likes to remind me that I haven’t done the laundry, opened the mail, or gotten enough exercise. Sheesh! Katharine

  7. Thanks, liosrpoetique. It’s always inspiring for me to see daily activities through a kid’s eyes. Just this morning I watched a little boy on an elevator. He was surprised and delighted by the door shutting, the bell dinging, the door opening. Adults get so inured to what’s happening around us that we miss the possibilities, don’t you think?

  8. Great post! I’m always baffled by people who say they write and live out in the remotest places never talking to anyone or being a part of life. I wonder, “How can you write dialogue without interacting with other humans?” “How do you describe places and faces without seeing anything?” Sometimes when I’m stuck with my stories I take walks or “get lost” in a familiar setting. It’s great advice when your characters’ voices have gone quiet.

    • Thanks for the comment, fairytalefeminista. I love to take walks when my creative well runs dry. I think of it as allowing my unconscious to refill. I’m an avid people watcher (although I prefer walks in nature). I’m at the airport right now: lots of good future material! Katharine

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