Over on Ali's blog she has been talking about what she took away from seeing Neil Gaiman in person and from looking at the nuts and bolts of his writing in The Graveyard Book. And the "it doesn't have to be perfect" lesson is a great one. One I have had to remind myself of most of my life. There is a reason that so many half-finished projects--not just writing but quilting, embroidery, sketches, knitting, etc.--are strewn around my house.
My big lesson from the experience? Just tell the damn story! I've said this to other people in critiques. A couple of them in particular. And it's always been for writing around the story. For trying to be clever to the point of obscuring any real nugget that might move the plot forward. Now don't get me wrong. I've talked before about how much I love literary writing. The "pretty" of writing. But, as with people, pretty that has no real heart, soul or brain gets damn dull after a while. After a very short while, usually.
But it also applies to my own writing. Or lack thereof. Because I stall out when I feel I'm not writing it right. "Maybe this would be told better in 1st person--or maybe I should include a flashback. Wait! Flashbacks are bad, right? But sometimes they're okay. Or I should change the main character. Or the setting. Or or or or." And I don't do anything. But if I'd quit looking at the perfect and just told the damn story that's in my head, I wouldn't have those problems. I'd probably have other ones, but that's okay. Clean it up later, right?
When Mr. Gaiman uses "to be" verbs, I believe it's because that's the way people tell stories to each other. "Once upon a time, there was a little girl who . . ." "I was at the Neil Gaiman reading the other night and . . ." And he is a storyteller. And, yes, they can be overdone, but that's what revision is for. To take out the ones that don't work. I just think we need to be mindful of the ones that do and be brave enough to leave them in. Forget about that critique group in our heads, who may even be worse than the Heckler.
Now, I'm probably the biggest offender when it comes to marking up things like passive voice and adverbs and the like, including "to be" verbs. And as a part of a critique group, it may be my job to point out overuse. But I think we all need to be aware of when we're overdoing the critiques too.
So, Just Tell The Damn Story is my new mantra. When I'm stuck. When I'm confused. When I don't feel like working. Just Tell The Damn Story.