This is a story about resisting the urge to edit while drafting. It’s also about spirals, negative and positive. It can all work together…
We want to feel good. Who doesn’t? We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to feel good about our writing. Doubt is a writer killer and we’d do just about anything to remove doubt so we can be successful.
Determination. Confidence. Excellent writing. We crave these things.
Here’s the kicker: Giving into doubt creates more doubt.
If NaNoWriMo slips away year after year and you’ve yet to complete a project then you might want to listen to this. There are two major writing spirals I’ve experienced and witnessed. My focus is on NaNo because its a microcosm for the writing experience, but what I’m referring to is in no way restricted to it.
You’re attempting a novel, perhaps for NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’ll plot, perhaps not, or maybe, like many, you fall somewhere in-between. Regardless, hopefully you have the germ of an idea and some characters. Your enthusiasm is high. Week two arrives and with it the lure of perfectionism. Knowing you’ve drafted imperfection is unpleasant and distracting.
Wouldn’t you feel SO much better if you went back and fixed it up? Self-doubt has arrived. Which way will you go?
The Negative Spiral
You keep stopping to go back and edit, laboring over narrative and dialogue. The story’s growth halts. NaNo slips away, replaced with the self-denial narrative: You’ll get it next time, you didn’t win because you’re using the wrong POV, writing in the wrong genre, didn’t pants/plot enough, or maybe it was the fault of the holiday, sporting event, Netflix, work, family…
Yes, real life issues can intrude (injury, illness, death in the family), but when they’re a lie we tell ourselves self-doubt has won.
If you’re working outside NaNo then the drafting process drags on over months, maybe years, until you give up or your mind drifts to a new project. If, eventually, you do finish the project you realize, much to your horror, that you’re faced with cutting much of what you labored over because you edited sections without knowing the whole of the story.
In such moments “darlings” are born. Cut that scene I labored over! Are you kidding? Now the project that took so long to draft will take even longer to edit as determination becomes stubborn obsession.
I became a prolific writer when I stopped editing while drafting and instead (wait for it) just wrote. The advice came to me via Ray Bradbury, but many other writers give the same advice.
The Positive Spiral
You draft. You know you’ll scrap some or a lot of what you’ve written, but you draft anyway and you finish. You finish! Great feeling. You set it aside so you can see it with new eyes later.
Meanwhile, even if you’re working on another project, it’s in your thoughts and you’re already realizing all the ways it could be better. Eventually you go back to it and the long (yes, long … it’s part of the process) act of editing begins. The difference now is that you’re editing with knowledge of the whole in your mind. You know where the story goes, not where you think it might go. In other words, there’s no wasted effort. Arcs, foreshadowing, themes … it all becomes easier.
Too, there’s the psychological boost that comes from finishing and the experience that comes with all that practice. Even better, you’re more inclined to draft again and again, adding more experience. You move beyond struggling for that first completion and instead gain the benefits of extensive practice as you experiment with technique and process along the way.
You’re path is up to you. Two spirals. Some variance in the scenarios may exist, but for the most part these are representative. Too, convince yourself you’re an exception at your own peril. What matters, all that matters, is that you finish what you begin.
There’s no better defense agains self-doubt.