Every writer needs a “shit detector.”

larry headshot   It was twenty or some years ago when I studied with Lisa Knopp, a faculty member who taught creative nonfiction writing at the local university.  I worked privately with her for over three years.  Of all the things that she taught me, and there were many, I’m continually reminded of her advice each time I examine my writing.  “If you want to be a good writer,” she said, “you have to have a good “shit detector.”  She went on to say that I need to know when my writing is a piece of shit.  Each time I go through my multiple drafts, I need to clean out the “outhouse.”
Now for the non-writers, I should point out that a shit detector is not something you  purchase at the local Lowe’s store.  No, it’s not a mechanical device that has a low, medium, and high setting that is used when you determine the level of shit in your writing.  No, that’s not how it works.  Your intellect, mastery of writing, emotional maturity, and whether you bleed when you write, all of those, and probably some long forgotten,  encompass the shit detector.
How we use the shit detector helps determine the quality of our writing.  I suggest not using the detector until you have written your first draft.  Otherwise you will always regard your writing as a piece of shit, and never be able to write anything; not even the first draft. I use two techniques when utilizing the shit detector.  First I read the work out loud.  Sometimes I think that I have written a masterpiece and then I read it out loud.  OMG, what a piece of shit.  After I have cleaned out the outhouse, I step away from my work for a day or two.  By this time the shit will have floated to the surface.  Then it’s just a matter of picking out the pieces and tossing them away.
The final step is achieved when you read it out loud and feel an emotional rush throughout your body.  That’s a sure sign that you have a worthy piece of writing.  It’s something that enables the writer to handle the rejections, loneliness, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the lack of self worth.  It can feel so good.
When my teacher told me about the shit detector, I didn’t know if that was her original thought.  It wasn’t until I began to write this blog that I wondered if other writers knew about the shit detector.  Well, much to my surprise, I found a blog written by Ashley Perez on the shit detector.  “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit-detector.” — Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway has some powerful quotes.  Remember the one about how to write?  You sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Ashley adds an important element to the shit detector.  Not wanting to steel from Ashley’s blog, I will direct you to her blog so you can read the rest of the story.  I promise that it is worth your time.   http://www.ashleyperez.com/blog/item/23-the-most-essential-gift-for-writers-hemingways-shit-detector

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