Good can be dangerous for a writer. Those inspired notes, painstakingly collected, worried over, caressed onto the page…they can instill a false sense of accomplishment.

“You’re done,” you tell yourself; “you’ve got it.”


What you discover, in the seduction of those rare and glorious passages, is that you’ve missed something important. Think of it this way: You’ve got a beautiful man in your heart. And for some incomprehensible reason, you’ve neglected to realize that he’s a serial killer. Oops. Oh dear.

What happened?

Sometimes chapters come to us entire. Sometimes they’re anchored to a landing point (that glorious passage we were talking about.) More often, they’re built around a fragment. And in the fragment is the danger.

When we fail to hear the voice of the entire chapter before we begin it, we miss the very vehicle that will get us where we’re going. We throw broken glass across our paths. We invite the slog. Most importantly, we miss the richness of possibility that can lead us to other, better directions; greater satisfactions.

There’s a saying in video production, “we’ll fix it in post”, meaning that we’ll go on now and make it right later. And in writing, the equivalent ability to groom, to smooth, to make-right certainly does exist. But here’s the drawback that I’m discovering in the daily lesson-learning that writing is: The longer one spends in the chapter, the more times one revisits it to revise and polish, the less exciting the chapter becomes. The work loses its freshness and spontaneity. It takes on a mannered formality that falls back on style rather than reveals genuine substance; that forces emotion rather than evokes it.

When this happens, a step back is in order. A forced separation. A long walk devoted to thinking. What is the emotional voice that carries the passage? What is the world that the POV character is thinking in the moment? What is the is in the is?

We can find the is only when we hear the voices whole. Only when we let the voices in our heads have their say.