It’s the middle of NaNoWriMo. For those of you participating, maybe you’re halfway through, maybe you’re already done and going back for re-writes. Maybe you’ve just started—in that case, better late than never! Or maybe you’ve been stuck on the same ten pages for the last two weeks because every paragraph nags and bites at you like a puppy with a toothache. You can’t make significant progress because you lack surety about every line you write. You need it to be perfect. How can you possibly go on until it is?
A lot of people set out to write novels, but few ever finish one. From what I’ve heard, this is largely because people keep going back to edit what they have instead of pushing on to the finish line. It’s like seeing a great big beautiful rainbow on the horizon, but as you walk towards it you take two steps forward and then one step back to wipe the dirt off your shoes. And if it’s a long journey, sooner or later you may just give up and sit your ass down somewhere. Instead, doesn’t it sound better to get to that rainbow and then clean your shoes? Think of your writing like this. Finishing that first draft is the most important part. Once you have that, you can go back and edit all you want.
Now, that’s not to say that editing along the way doesn’t work for some people. If it does for you, then by all means, feel free. But for the rest of us, especially those who are on their first major project, the need for perfection at every point along the way can be a little discouraging. I suggest that you set a writing goal for yourself and work towards achieving that goal every single day, even if you think some of what you did will need editing.
Because, guess what, it’ll all need editing!
Even what you think as your best writing will probably get marked up by the notorious red pen when an editor gets to it. So save that for later. This part—the writing part—is about creativity and discovery. But if you just can’t resist the itch and MUST edit, limit yourself to only small edits. After each writing session, go back and read over for typos, stuff that doesn’t make sense, or small-scale plot holes. But make a promise to yourself that you won’t revisit work from previous days.
Think of it this way. Either way, the editing process will be stressful, even downright nasty at times. When things start to get really rough and you lose faith in your writing and yourself, it’ll be a lot easier to drop a 50-page start than 200+ pages of something you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into. Let this be further motivation to save all the major editing for the second draft. Once you have committed so much time to a project, you’re in a better position to stick with it through the editing process, even if you think the first draft is pure crap.
As with all of these posts and the advice that different writers—big and small—give, it’s all about finding what works best for you. And if you find yourself with a lot of 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 chapter starts with smoothly edited writing and no more, than maybe it’s time to try a new approach. Finishing that manuscript will be the best feeling in the world and even if you put it in a drawer and don’t look at it for months, you will come back and finish the dirty work—you’re too damn invested now not to. It all comes down to: Which you would rather be? Sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, watching the rainbow in the distance, with shoes clean enough to slick your hair back with, or at the pot of gold with mud-caked boots? You decide.
And I promise—I promise—that Leprechaun has one helluva shoe-cleaner.