Why Writers Should Listen to Carly Rae Jepsen
Writers are often told to write what you know, but I want to help you write what you don’t know. And I want to keep it fun, so we’re going to turn to the words of the incomparable Carly Rae Jepsen for inspiration.
Like She Says: Cut to the Feeling
Say you want to write about the exploits of someone faster than speeding bullet—a dude more powerful than a locomotive who’s able to leap over the Empire State Building without breaking a sweat. But you break a sweat trying to jog around the block, and you’ve never been a dude—let alone a dude who could punch Thomas the Tank Engine in his face and win.
What do you do?
As Carly Rae Jepsen tells us, you “cut to the feeling.”
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the two Jewish kids who created Superman, solved the problem by writing about alien who, like their ancestors, immigrates to America—albeit from slightly further away than Europe—and then does everything he can to fit into the so-called “dream” of his new country.
In his introduction to a live version of “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” found on the album 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert, Billy Joel jokes that “this is song is completely, historically, totally inaccurate.” But I guarantee you that the folks listening to it when it first came out in 1974 didn’t give two shits about that. They weren’t running to their dusty set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias to see what Joel got wrong and right about the life of one William H. Bonney, just like people weren’t running out of the theaters in 1990 when the film Young Guns II gave credence to the B.S. story of Brushy Bill Roberts, an old guy who claimed he was the real Billy the Kid. Billy Joel and the creators of Young Guns II got the feeling right, and for most readers and viewers that is all that’s going to matter.
If you do your job right, that’s all that will matter to your readers too.
A Party for One
Your goal in the first draft of any piece of writing is to amuse and/or intrigue yourself enough to keep going. Your job is to get to the next paragraph, the next scene, the next stanza. And I’m a big believer that too much research too soon is going to keep you from your goal, which is to write as much as you can, as quickly as you can.
The feeling—the energy—of the first draft is the one thing I don’t think you can ever truly capture again in the revision process. You can fix all sorts of things later, but if you don’t get the feeling right—or if you stop so often that you forget what the feeling was—that’s disaster.
So do as Carly Rae tells us and have yourself a party for one. I’m not saying you need to strip down to your birthday suit and have yourself a bubble bath, but I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that either.
If you want to write a scene where your too-proper British officer orders his men to turn the Long Nines on the pirate and the blacksmith’s apprentice who’ve just commandeered your navy’s best ship, don’t get out of your bubble bath to discover that “Long Nines” you’re thinking of are actually carronades and that they weren’t invented until 50 years after you’ve set your story. Stay in your bubble bath and keep stroking your keys about those Long Nines until you’re finished. Until you’re good and spent. Don’t let reality poop in your tub, at least not yet.
(P.S. If someone asks why you’re using your laptop while taking a bath, tell them you’ve got AppleCare. Even if you don’t own a Mac. It’ll shut them up, I promise.)
Now That I Found You
Okay, all of that said, once you can look lovingly between the lines of your manuscript and croon the sweet words “Now that I’ve found you” like our friend Ms. Jepsen—once you can do that, it’s time to do the work and find out where you fucked up.
I’ve written a lot more about Hawaii in my forthcoming novel Exquisite Corpse than I expected to, much more than I did in Missing Mr. Wingfield, and as much fact-checking as I’ve done, I know that I can’t possibly catch all of the mistakes I might’ve made. I spent two weeks in Hawaii nearly 20 years ago, and as much as I might’ve obsessively read about the place—as much as I might relive my memories of the place on the daily—I’m not going to labor under the delusion that I’m infallible. You shouldn’t either.
This is where a great editor or sensitivity reader comes in handy. I’ll be reaching out to editors I’ve found in the fantastic Editors of Color database to hire someone of Hawaiian descent to check my work. Your next step may be way simpler, maybe even just a couple of hours spent on Google searches, but you’ve got to do it.
Cut to the feeling on the first draft, yes. But you’ve got to build on more than a memory in the final book, play, or poem that you present to the world.