Lessons Learned from Diana Wynne Jones: “Just Bash On & Do It.”

With National Novel Writing Month just a few days away, I think it’s worth pausing my own nonfiction and lessons from my favorite writer until December. However, to help those who also revel in the Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon, I shall continue sharing Writer’s Music posts throughout the month.

That said, I wanted to talk about something from Diana Wynne Jones’ Reflections that feels especially appropriate on the cusp of NaNoWriMo.

In 2011, Charlie Butler interviewed Jones in her home. At one point he asks about her writing process, and if others, such as editors, see the work in progress. Jones is very clear that this is NOT how she works:

I hate being edited, because my second draft is as careful as I can get it. I try to get it absolutely mistake-free, and absolutely as I feel the book needs to be. Then some editor comes along and says, “Change Chapter Eight to Chapter Five, take a huge lump out of Chapter Nine, and let’s cut Chapter One altogether.” And you think, No, I’m going to hit the ceiling any moment. Then I call for my agent before I get my hands round this person’s throat.

Thank God it was the days before computers. I said, “Send me the typescript back and I’ll see what I can do.” So she did, and I cut out the bits she told me to alter, in irregular shapes, then stuck them back in exactly the same place with Sellotape, only crooked, so it looked as if I’d taken the pieces out and put new pieces in. And then I sent it back to her, and she rang up and said, “Oh, your alterations have made such a difference.” And I thought, “Right! Hereafter I will take no notice of anybody who tries to edit my books.”

Now while I can only dream of having this woman’s confidence and ability to write sideways and backwards and ALWAYS create something awesome (such as Hexwood), she still marks the point that it is the SECOND draft she makes perfect. Her first draft was always written by hand, and she accepted that chunks of it would need to be done over: “If you want to make your story as good as you can get it, you have to go over it and get it right.”

For some of us, who are on draft #8 (ahem), “getting it right” in only one or two rewrites still sounds like a miracle. But it is nice to know that one whose plots knot every which way and still produce these beautiful woven works does not expect it to be right the first time. Yet another reason NaNoWriMo is so wonderful for writers: it forces us through that first draft (in Jones’ words: “Just bash on and do it.”). Then, with the time crunch gone, we can take our time, pick the story threads apart, and concentrate completely on “getting it right.”

Click here for more on Diana Wynne Jones and her article “Hints on Writing.”

Click here for more on National Novel Writing Month.

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17 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Diana Wynne Jones: “Just Bash On & Do It.”

  1. I love that story, and it goes to show that authors have to trust their gut and not to rely on others to validate their writing.

    The “getting it right” part has been an ongoing challenge for me. I tend to edit while I write, and though oftentimes it works, there are other times when it infringes upon the flow. I’m working harder just to get it all out on the first draft, and then to “get it right” on the second.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great story, and it goes to show that writers have to trust their gut, and not to rely on others to validate their writing.

    It’s been an ongoing challenge for me to “just bash on and do it.” I tend to edit while I write, and though it works sometimes, there are other times when it infringes upon the flow. I’m working harder just to pour it all out on the first draft, and then to “get it right” on the second draft.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Allen. I used to edit as I go, too, but the pressures of life combined with the pressure of NaNoWriMo made me realize it will be so much easier to get right what is before my eyes, rather than all muddled in my head. I hope you’re participating this year–I know I am!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Unfortunately, I haven’t made plans yet to participate … I’ve been struggling lately just to keep up with my blogging. If I can get back to my regular schedule, I think I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.

        But I do need to work on just getting it all out and returning later to revise. I’ve been doing it more and more and hoping it will soon become second-nature. It’s frustrating to get stymied two paragraphs in because you’re tinkering with a specific phrase. I imagine my stop-and-go pace explains the several half-finished novels sitting on my computer! 🙂

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      • Oh, Allen, I know what you mean. I think that’s one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo so much–it forces me to see a single story through to the end. I learned to shut my editor up, accept that stuff’s going to get cut or changed, and that I won’t know which stuff to cut or change until I see the story through to the end. I hope in time you get to try the NaNo method for yourself!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really need to … I’m finally making a dedicated effort to write a little every day. It’s amazing how easy it is to slip into a routine, but I know if I can write just a little every day — even if it’s gibberish (which actually describes a lot of my blog posts) — it fuels the inspirational drive to keep writing. And I’m getting better at ignoring that ever-present editor hovering over my shoulder — at least until the second draft!

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      • Good for you! It’s all about the regimen, I think. I’ve realized my language and coherence have improved since I started this blog. I’m not trying to achieve brilliance on the first go, but I find that I’m not tripping over my words nearly as much as I used to. And THAT, I find, is an accomplishment, indeed!

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  3. One of the things that I have been pondering recently is how digital text changes writing process. When is a draft a draft and how many drafts have there been ? Since it is so much easier to rearrange and alter digital text as you go, there are multiple layers of drafting before the full piece is completed once. Does that count a draft one or muti-draft series one ? Has this altered in any way the writing process and if so in what way ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating thoughts! (Thank you for reading, by the way.) I do believe one can create multiple drafts, even if the words themselves may not drastically change–after all, when one changes point of view, or the voice, the plot may not be altered much, but the language is. Or, the plot is reorganized, yet the language may remain unchanged. I don’t think we have the intensive rewrites authors of the past underwent, but I do think current writers still experience multiple drafts to reach that pure story.

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