There are so many ‘rules’ in life. Everywhere and anywhere: rules, rules, rules. Writing is no different. There are a lot of ‘rules’. I didn’t know this until long after I started writing but it appears that I’ve been missing a trick by ignoring the ‘rules’. Now that I know what they are though, I’m beginning to wonder whether they actually deserve to be rules, because rules need to come from some sort of firm basing, right? Right. So although I’m not as qualified as some (like Stephen King) to examine the rules of writing, I want to look through each of them and decide whether or not they are right for me. And hence begins a new series to this blog (a mini-series, if you will, a series within a series of Friday Feels’): Deconstructing the Writing Rules. I’d like to point out though that I am in no way editing these rules in relation to anyone else – if you find some wisdom in this series, then awesome, and if you can relate then that’s cool too but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m not trying to tell anyone what the ‘rules’ should be but instead, I’m looking at the rules and deciding how they work for me.
So since I’m currently working on the first draft of a book, the first rule I’m going to look at is:
You see, Shakespeare was wrong. The question is not “to be or not to be”. Instead, the question is “to edit or not to edit” (hmmm, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?).
Creative flow is absolutely important when writing a first draft. There’s no doubt about that. And yes, distractions can absolutely put a dam in that flow but often, editing is not the dam but rather, a way of knocking down that dam. I’ll give you a personal example. A few weeks ago, I was really stuck. I couldn’t write any more, my brain just wouldn’t tell me the next words or phrases. Now I know this adage of “write one word and the next will come” and it works to an extent but sometimes, that block is just too big. So rather than hiding under a rock and crying myself to sleep (which, I’ll admit, was tempting), I went back and read through what I had already written, editing as I go. I realised that the block was coming from a confusion at the beginning of my WIP. I couldn’t get the story straight in my head because the beginning was gnarled and knotted. So I re-wrote some of it, re-arranged other bits, took some out completely. The beginning is not finished and it won’t be for a while, but once I’d straightened out the confusion, my block melted away and suddenly I was able to write again – I had found my creative flow.
So yes, editing can be a time-suck, but it can also be a friend during a sucky time.
Tosh. That’s all I’ve really got to say about this point. Whether you get to the end or not has nothing to do with whether you edit as you go. Determination, motivation, drive – they are all factors. Distractions, procrastination, a day job – they are factors too. But editing? Nope, I can’t agree.
According to who? And why does this have to be a rule? My first drafts are always bad (when it comes to books, anyway. My short stories get one draft and that’s it), but I don’t see why that means everyone’s are. I’m guessing very few – if any – writers end up with a finished product after their first draft but to say that it must be bad by definition is nonsense. It’s like a rule made up by the people who write terrible first drafts, just to make themselves feel better. Some writers (the ones who edit as they go), end up with something reasonable after the first draft, something that doesn’t require a massive overhaul, complete re-writes, or structural edits. These writers may not be as common as the ‘terrible’ first-drafters, but they exist and to suggest otherwise is both disrespectful and unfair.
I’ve read comments and posts by countless writers who say “not editing as I write is really hard,” which, to me, seems completely bizarre! Why on Overworld would you make something harder than it needs to be? Surely writers choose to write because that’s what they love to do? Certainly all the writers I know do it because they are drawn to it, because they need it, so to make something difficult where it doesn’t need to be is absolutely absurd. This goes back to my earlier point too – if your creative flow is telling you to go back and change something, then bloody go back and change it! By forcing your ‘flow’ in a direction that it doesn’t instinctively want to go is, in essence, damaging that flow and will ultimately make you miserable, make your work less than it potentially could be, or both. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want either.
So for Me? You’ve probably guessed. When I first discovered this writing rule, I was genuinely surprised. I edit as I go and I’m not going to stop any time soon. I don’t even write linear – I pick and choose the scenes I work on depending on how I feel and sometimes, I don’t feel like writing at all. So what do I do on those days I don’t feel like writing? I edit. I read through what I’ve already written, I look at structure and character, I check for typos, I re-evaluate the plot and the twists. I edit because even if I don’t feel like writing, I am still making progress. I edit because working that way works for me. And whilst even then I don’t end up with a finished product, my first draft is a damn sight better because of it.
Having said that, I understand the warnings of this rule: don’t get so consumed by the editing that your story gets lost or worse – remains unfinished. It’s a great warning to heed, with an important message but as an out-and-out rule? I’m not so sure. So for me, I’m changing this rule to:
What does work for you?
Coming up in next week’s Friday Feels: A big lifestyle change!