Monthly Archives: May 2017

Metathinking About Your Writing

My comments today apply to editing, not to writing a first draft. Writers commonly say first drafts should be written without editing, though I know some who edit every line as they go. My practice is to write without editing first, and then begin the editing process, which often takes longer than the writing.
When we edit our own writing creations we are metathinking about writing, i.e. thinking about our thinking as writers. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metacognition ) We’re considering how good our writing is and what we can do to make it better. Over time, some of our metathinking becomes automatic. We internalize it and no longer must think about it. For example: if you work with an editor who will not allow the word ‘they’ to be used as a coordinating conjunction without the addition of the word ‘and,’ you internalize that over time and automatically add the ‘and.’ (Just an example, I know some editors allow this today.)
There’s another kind of metathinking that’s a bit harder, in my opinion, I call it Dub, for short. I think of it as a muse that sits on my shoulder, reading my writing, making almost inaudible comments. Dub comes from the word dubiety: the state or quality of being doubtful; uncertainty (a synonym).
Where does Dub come from? I noticed over many years of having my writing reviewed or edited that it was not unusual for me to have a little twinge of doubt when I wrote something. Then, in critique, someone would say, you should say this in a different way, or did you consider this rule, etc. I could have saved myself the critique, if I had listened to Dub.
I didn’t talk to others about Dub for a long time until I heard them say, “Oh, I thought about that, but didn’t change it.” After hearing that many times, I decided to amplify Dub’s voice. Whenever I feel that twinge, I think, “What are you telling me Dub?” I stop and listen to my own out-of-awareness thinking and make myself aware of what’s going on. I consider this a deeper way of metathinking that the systematic process of analyzing my aware thinking.
A writer friend said she could never do this. She went on to say that she doesn’t know how she writes, where the inspiration comes from, or how she thinks. In fact, she writes two hours a day, reviews what she wrote the previous day before she begins, and carefully vets her own writing against standards and practices she’s learned over her last twenty years of writing. Everything she does is on automatic.
Now, whenever Dub mumbles something, I stop writing and think about what he is trying to tell me. Usually, I can spot the problem quickly. Sometimes, it eludes me for a while. For example: this week I was working on a chapter in a novel and something bothered me. Listening to Dub, stopped what I was doing, and looked the chapter over. I couldn’t spot a problem. Then I recalled a ‘rule’ found in Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Rejected: and How to Avoid Them, by Lois Winston:
“A crucial decision the writer must make in each scene is to choose the point of view character for that scene. The scene will have the most impact if the POV character is the one who has the most to lose at that moment…”
Later, she says:
“Keep in mind that there is no rule that states each chapter must be in one character’s point of view, or even each scene must only be in one character’s point of view.”
When I recalled what she had to say about POV (many others have said it too, just Google ‘fiction rule “Who has the most to lose”) I saw my problem. The POV character in my chapter had nothing to lose. Any of several other characters had more to lose, but one, and only one, was putting her life on the line. That led me to change the next two chapters, which improved my book.
So, I suggest you listen to your inner Dub and stop writing when you have a nagging feeling that something’s wrong. Dub is almost always right.