Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Writing vs. Storytelling

Okay, I know some of you are probably looking at that title and crying foul, thinking Writing IS Storytelling. And in some ways you're right. But I do think there's a difference too.

See, lately I've been trying to figure out why I hate revision so much, because you know what? I thought I'd love it. In case you haven't noticed this about me, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I like details. I like things neat, and orderly. And first drafts are MESSY. They're about as far from perfect as they can be (except for those rare people who write perfect first drafts, but let's face it, nobody likes those people so we're going to ignore their existence) :) So I always figured I'd love the revision stage, because that's when you really dig into all the little details and nuances and perfect them.

But I HATE it! And here's why:

When I'm writing new words--once I get to that zone where I force my brain to stop thinking about the fact that at least half (okay, 2/3) of what I'm writing is total crap--I get lost in the story. It's just me, my characters, the world they inhabit, and the things happening to them and I'm loving every second of it because I want to know what's going to happen next (yes, I'm a bit of a pantser. I let my characters lead the way).

I can't tell you how many times the story has taken me places I never planned to go, or characters have popped up out of nowhere, or done things I never thought they would do. And it's MAGIC. Sure, when I read it later I realize what a big suckfest a lot of it is. But when I'm lost in the story it doesn't matter.

And then...there's revision.

Revision is WRITING. It's looking at all those boring, cliched metaphors or flat, lifeless descriptions, or repetitive phrases or confusing plotlines and trying to make them good. It's about knowing the principles of plot, and character development, and pacing and then bending your words to conform--or consciously deciding when to break those rules. It's about sending pages to critique partners and getting tons of notes and trying to figure out which notes work, which don't, how to apply them, how to ripple the changes through the parts you want to keep, etc.

In fact, half the time when I'm revising, I'm barely thinking about the story. I'm thinking about how to make the dialogue in a specific scene pop, or how to ground the characters in their setting more, or how to explain something that exists only in my head to a person who can't see it.

It's not about storytelling anymore. It's about writing.

I'm not saying revision's not important. Revision is what turns stories into something good enough that publishers will pay money to print it as a book that people will then pay money to buy and read. But it's not as fun as storytelling, IMHO.

So I'm a writer. I write and I revise and revise some more and then, just when I think I'm done, I revise again. But I prefer when I'm a storyteller. Then it's just me and a blank page (er--Word doc) telling the stories in my head. I'm looking very forward to the day I can go back to that place. Hopefully I'll be there soon.

How about you guys? Do you prefer writing or storytelling? Or do you think they're the same thing and revision has turned me crazy? :)


  1. I love it when I get lost in my story world and totally forget that I suck. Great feeling. LOL.

    This is an amazing point. You're correct; they are two different animals.

    Writing is what makes the ms shine and ready for sale--(not at that point yet, but I will be.) So it's vital. But I love the Storytelling aspect. That's where I get to travel to a place and with people no one else has yet.

    *Sniff, sniff...I feel special*

  2. I totally agree.

    Writing is so much fun. Revision is hard work.

    Both are necessary to tell a wonderful story properly - but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

  3. I was about to argue with you, but you swayed me. There's a difference.

    You scared me though. I keep thinking I'll like the revisions because I get to transform the crap into gold, but now I'm worried it's just going to be a lot of hard work. (ugh)

  4. I enjoy doing both equally. I love writing fresh. But I also love seeing my story get refined. Though, when revising, I miss the storytelling and usually do bits and pieces here and there. I can't say I "miss" revising - just the finished product. :)

  5. Oh- I totally agree! I would rather be in storytelling mode when the words, the story just flow through my fingertips and I bang out page after page. It's such a high, no? I like certain parts of revision- I hate sending it off to the CPs because as soon as I get it back, I think, "Wow. I suck. I'm actually embarrassed that I sent this to them." I get a bit down when reading through their notes. However, once I get started on taking their notes and trying to revise my WIP with their suggestions, I don't mind it as much.

  6. I prefer revision! It's more fun to make something shine than create something from scratch and waaayy less scary.

  7. On my first book I hated revising. Mainly because I didn't really know what I was doing.

    But now I kinda like it. Especially when I'm done and I'm all "OMG that scene rocks!!!"

    But I still feel ya ... revising is hard.

  8. Lately I've been a little stuck in my story so I've preferred the editing - writing part. But today I did some storytelling and it was really fun. I'd forgotten how fun it is to have ideas just come out. Things I'd not thought of before - it is magic when the characters and the story takes over.

  9. I definitely prefer storytelling. I know my draft is a mess, but I like to get to know my characters and see where their adventures take me, just getting lost in the world. Hammering out the little details of one specific scene gets tiring, and I get frustrated sometimes. I still love it, and I love the end result, but I hate that feeling of being lost that I sometimes get when I'm revising - I never get that when I'm storytelling!

  10. hmmmmm...

    Both parts are such essential to the whole that I think I like the blurred line in between ;o)

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

  11. For me it totally depends on the day I'm having. Sometimes the storytelling just clicks and it's an incredible feeling. Other times I'm in heaven sharpening what I wrote before and making it so much better. (And of course there's days where I hate both.)
    Honestly I allow myself to flip back and forth right now, but soon I'll have to lock myself in revision-land. A little scary!

  12. "Or do you think they're the same thing and revision has turned me crazy?"

    Why do we have to choose one? Couldn't they be different things, *and* revision has turned you crazy? That'd be my vote, anyway.


  13. I am SO there with you! I LOVE writing that first draft, where it feels like anything is possible, and even the first round of revisions isn't so bad because it's (for me) anyway, my first look at what I really have, and putting it together in some sort of semblence of order. But after that? Ugh.

    I'm in the midst of my biggest one yet and I feel like a surgeon or like I'm playing that game Operation. I have to examine *everything* do real writing, and then examine everything again. Sometimes I just want to scream "be done already!" Or send it out as is, but um, yeah, that wouldn't be good!

    At least you know the revisions you're making are the right ones though! You've got a great guide, which is AWESOME!

  14. I totally agree! I love telling the story in the first draft. It's like playing! But then comes the first draft revision, which is work, work, and more work. Following revisions feel more like play again, but that first draft revision is my archnemesis!

    Good luck, Shannon! Sending you positive thoughts and lots of energy to get you through your revision!

  15. I definitely know how you feel. Great way of explaining it!

  16. I definitely had a lightbulb moment reading this post: you are totally right, revision isn't about the story. It's about the architecture and execution of the story. Revision is difficult for me because I'm looking at a scene or dialogue so objectively that I'm not always getting a good feeling for the emotional flow and undercurrents of the scene.

  17. This is a brilliant post, Shannon - and so true! I tend to do a little writing while I story tell, but overall I think I prefer the first draft. You said it all! :-)

  18. You'll make it ... and soon, you'll be back to storytelling!! :-)

  19. I completely agree. I've *tried* to like revising...but I just can't do it.

    To that end, I'm slowing down my drafting process. Because I'd rather head off revisions the first time around wherever possible, to minimize the amount I have to do afterward.


  20. You and I are 1000% on the same wavelength here. I LOVE the first draft (which is utter crap in the writing sense), just letting the story flow onto the page. Then editing is a completely different animal, where I don the writerly hat and hack away at the cumbersome phrases and disjointed paragraphs.

    Congrats on having representation! That's pure awesome! :) I'd love to hear more about your writing projects!

  21. Hello! New follower and blogerly friend! Thanks for checking out my blog. I am glad you stopped lurking tonight so I could find you! :)

    I am totally with you on the storytelling versus writing. There is a certain degree of being pulled away by the story so you just dump it out of your brain without dwelling on the details, but then you have to come back and polish it up (which I am beginning to loathe.

  22. I find the joy of storytelling when I'm doing my outline. I like to know where everything is going before I start writing. The writing part is the hardest for me. Revisions, I enjoy. I think this is because it's the part where I try to make the writing match the story in the outline (and I'm back where I started).

  23. I'm not fond of revising at first, but as I see the story get better I get excited about it again.

  24. Storytelling is great. Revising is a pain, but it's worth it for the finished product.

  25. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  26. I have love/hate relationships with both for different reasons.

  27. Hey Shannon,

    (I love saying that and not be talking to myself...). First, thanks for dropping by my blog today. Next, I read this post and shook my head the entire time. I know exactly what you're talking about. I love the creation process (panster, too) and learning where the story will go and what comes next.

    Revision, on the other hand, is another story. I will fight a scene (sometimes a sentence) for hours into submission so it has the right pacing.

    Hang in there and have a glass of wine. It makes revising more entertaining. :)

  28. I never looked at it that way before, but it's true that the first draft is the real 'story telling'. Anything after that is trying to get the writing to shine. I hate revision. Mostly because it's a long process and I have no patience. But I've learned my lesson:)

    Thanks so much for sighning onto my blog and for your comments! Much appreciated!

  29. yaaaaaaaaaaaa Writing is so much fun. Revision is hard work.
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