Wardrobe malfunction: writers, mind your hats

I know. It’s not nearly as exciting as other types of wardrobe malfunctions that have made the news, but if you’re a creative who switches gears often throughout the day (or the hour), you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

You know that project, the one you’ve had in your head for weeks but just haven’t started? The one you’ve been plotting and scheming and planning? The storyline is built out in your head. You know the characters. But when you sit down to write, you end up shooting yourself in the foot. Why? Because you sat down wearing the wrong hat.

Wardrobe selection is key

Recently, I’ve gotten into a habit of trying to write creatively while wearing my editor and proofreader hats—and let me tell you how that works. I sit down, take a sip of my caffeinated beverage of choice, crack my knuckles, belt out a couple of paragraphs—and THEN (this is where things go awry), I go back and read them, rip them apart, and rewrite them. Over and over and over again.

When I’m wearing my editor hat, I may as well type in red ink, because my story will undoubtedly be massacred as soon as the letters hit the screen. When I write with my editor hat on, I’m acting as judge, jury, and executioner to any idea before it even hits the page, when really what I need to do is just get the story out.

The fixing can come later

This is not an anomaly for writers, by the way. We’re all guilty of it. We all have a LOT going on, and some days, it’s really, really hard to be 100% present. We live in a time when it’s heroic to multi-task, it’s admirable to have a completely booked calendar, it’s the norm to eat dinner in the car between extra-curricular events. And it’s not really surprising that it’s difficult to separate all the jobs we do on a day-to-day basis.

In lieu of driving myself stark raving mad, I’ve written job descriptions for some of the various hats I wear, which will, ideally, help keep me on track (and working productively toward my goals):

  • Editor Hat: This hat gives me complete freedom to rip apart, change, and update copy in order to benefit the brand or story I am representing. With a focus on mechanics, readability, and seamless messaging, I take a line-by-line view of the content I’m editing and offer suggestions for grammatical corrections, as well as clarifications for consistency and style. The nerdy, sentence-diagramming girl in me really LOVES this hat.)
  • Writer Hat: This is a flamboyant, creative, might-only-make-sense-to-me hat. It’s a wear-it-with-sweatpants hat or a dress-it-up hat or a write-on-a-park-bench hat. All of these are ok, because right now, I’m the only one who’s going to see a single word that made it onto my screen. Half sentences? Run-ons? Rambling thoughts? Everything goes! (Honestly, they’ll make me angsty, and it will take every ounce of willpower I have NOT to correct things, but this is exactly where they belong…in the writing and creating phase.) This is the get-it-out phase, the fast-and-furious phase of getting words and plotlines into some semblance of a story. Everything does NOT have to be perfect at this point.
  • Idea Generator Hat: This hat is a hot mess. It has feathers and sequins with a dusting of glitter. It has a little bit of felt mixed with satin and wool, topped off with a glued-on band that’s partially falling off. It’s pretty much a hodge-podge of everything—an anything-goes hat. If an idea crosses my mind, it goes into the book or onto the list or wherever I’m keeping the latest compendium of evil plotlines. Absolutely NO editing or writing should happen with this hat. It’s a collecting hat of out-of-this-world ideas and what-if concepts. No correcting allowed.
  • Not Creating Right Now Hat: This could be the Mom Hat, the Family Hat, the Netflix Hat, the Shopping Hat…you get it. It’s the Don’t-Expect-Creative-Output Hat, the one that indicates it’s time to pay attention to other things and be fully present in equally important stuff that is NOT related to writing. (GASP?! What?) This hat’s pretty cool because it delivers a VERY necessary brain break—and it reminds you that it’s important to focus on all the really awesome LIFE stuff. BONUS: All that life stuff is what inspires our really awesome stories.

I’m hopeful that by choosing the correct hat for the task at hand, I can keep ME from sabbotaging myself! Very often writers find themselves going backwards in the middle of the creative process because they’re focused on the tiniest details of grammar and story construct, when really, what should come first are their personal insights, feelings, and learnings. Grammar and construct can be refined anytime, anywhere. Experience, nuance, and story are much more difficult to reconstruct.

Choose your hat

No more self-sabbotage for writers. More self-confidence. More finishing; fewer excuses. More moving foward; never backward. More confindence and pride in hard work. More excitement to begin again. More learning and listening. MORE CREATING.

Your hat—at any given moment—defines who you are, what’s important to you, and what you’re working toward. So, don your chapeau, author…it’s gonna be a helluva ride!

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