A common ailment among beginner writers is a kind of control freakish micromanaging. What I mean by that is they write a paragraph and hone and tweak and fiddle with it until they are happy with it and only then, when they are exhausted and unsure of how this will marry up with the next paragraph, they finally and painfully let it go and move on.
This leads to a lot of dispirited writers, who are gradually over time although they might not know it unconsciously teaching themselves to mistrust their judgement, spoil their free flow of ideas and ultimately lose their way.
It’s like this: imagine you are painting the Mona Lisa. You start at the top left corner and start to paint. With only a scant idea of what the finished painting is going to look like on a totally blank canvas, you begin to paint it perfectly inch after inch, the background, the landscape in the distance, the trees and rocks, the top of Mona’s hair and so on left to right. You stay on each square inch until its perfect before moving on.
It’s less like the actual act of painting and more like printing it with an inkjet.
How can you know what is to come until you get there? How can you be sure the painting will be well composed if you are ignoring overall shape and focussing so intently on each individual detail as you go?
But this is what writers do to themselves, they try and write the book perfectly first time. They slave over paragraphs and read and reread them in a search for perfection. They read the paragraphs so much they become entrenched and fixed in their minds. They become set in stone.
So no wonder the writing goes off the rails. With everything nailed down, with everything set in stone, there is no room for flexibility of thought. Instead of getting their thoughts down roughly and quickly, they slave over each word. Once done each paragraph is impossible to edit, pare down or cut. It’s become a rehearsed reality, a fixed point in space.
You ask them and they say, it’s not right. The words are not coming easily and they are exhausted. You say you have to work in passes, write the first draft and put it away, coming back to it fresh for passes for sense and flow and editing. But they want to get the book done and they think that writing it perfectly first time will save time.
It won’t. I will destroy their ability to edit the words. It will make it take longer because there is no time limit on how much they can fuss over small details. It will probably dissuade them from finishing the book at all.
The first draft should be a single pass. Write fast and get it all down without editing or fussing over details or refining anything. Then put each page or chapter aside and DON’T READ IT. This takes enormous amounts of discipline, but it is essential. Write the next one put it aside and DON’T READ IT.
Just belt it down, get the words out of your brain and onto the page. If you’ve thought about what you are going to write then this should be easy. Just blurt them out, dash it down as fast as you can type. Don’t stop to correct yourself, don’t pause to think. Write in bursts, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hours, whatever you feel comfortable with. But have a limit.
Don’t write for 6 hours straight. You will warp your brain and end up typing rubbish. Write for two or three hours a day perhaps broken into one hour sessions. The quality of what you write will be higher and you’ll crack through the word counts like a sprinter.
But surely you need to apply some kind of quality control to what you’re writing or it will just be all rubbish. Not so, as you need to trust your ability to write down the thoughts in your head. You need to get used to letting those words flow out of your brain onto the page without editing.
It’s then and ONLY then will you see sparks of your own creative genius begin to appear in what your write.
Besides if you waste time fussing over a paragraph only to cut the whole section later on once you read the whole book, what’s the point of being that fussy? You wasted time.
Only once you finish the entire book, then you can read it. But don’t just read it for enjoyment, or to bask in your wonderfulness. Read it as an editor. First you must read it for sense and to map out the beats or pace. Are bits too long, or short, or have you made a mistake? Sort that out on a second pass.
Then you can do other passes, a read through from start to finish, taking in the book as a whole, to see how it reads, check spelling, grammar and facts.
If you work in passes and resist the temptation to micromanage each word, you will find writing a much more enjoyable and fluid experience. Work smarter, not harder.
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