Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe They Don't Know Everything

I wrote my 1000 words Monday through Wednesday of last week. I tried to be diligent and not get sidetracked by Twitter/blogs/"news articles" etc. I forced myself not to go back and edit what I'd written. Then came Thursday.

Thursday I had a self-doubt day. Roni posted about her "I am a Total Hack" day last Friday and she pretty much nailed how I'd felt the day before. Do you have these days sometimes too? Days when you feel like you will NEVER be able to write anything worth reading? I have one every few months-- they stink.

Anyway, part of the reason I was so frustrated with my manuscript was that it is a first draft (which means it's crappy). The scenes are incongruous, the writing is weak, and I don't know how it's going to end (because I abandoned the outline before I'd finished the first 5 pages).

I wanted to go back and edit. I felt like I needed to muck out all the junk and fix all the problems with the first half before I could go on. But I felt guilty doing this for two reasons.

1. Every single thing I've read about writing first drafts tells me I shouldn't go back and edit until it's done (and had a month or two in a drawer)

2. I made the goal to finish the first draft by the time I go to SCBWI (January 29th), and if I stop to revise I won't meet that goal.

Then I decided I'd do it anyway.

One of my problems with general writing advice (be it from books, blogs, conferences etc.) is that I take nearly everything I read as absolute truth. I think, "Oh, she says I'll be a better writer if I don't edit until I'm done with my first draft," or "he says adverbs are the devil" and think it must be so. But the truth is there is no "best way" to write. There's the best way for him and the best way for her, but that doesn't mean it's the best for me.

Maybe I need to edit and rewrite as I go in order to find the story. That is what happened with UNDERGROUND. At about this same point I went back and edited the first half before I went on. I'm pretty sure there is someone out there who can use "was" instead of more active verbs, and still write a bestseller. I KNOW there are successful writers who don't write everyday. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some people are able to write great stories using truckloads of adverbs (in fact I'm reading a book right now that I think is fantastic, despite--or maybe because of--the adverbs). I think I tend to look at these, and many other pieces of writing advice, as absolute, but they aren't RULES--they're just guidelines.

I'm not saying it isn't helpful to know how one person writes (or how most people write), but I think I need to start taking writing advice with a grain of salt. I am the only person who can write the stories in my head, and I need to do it in a way that works for me.

So, yeah, that's all I got. From now on I'm going to edit and rewrite whenever the fancy strikes me. I think I'll still be able to write 1000 words a day, but I'm going to be deleting a lot of words too. As a result I probably won't make my January deadline, but who cares!

What do you think? Is there a piece of common writing advice that doesn't work for you? Do you feel pressured to follow a certain process because "everyone" says it's the best way?

44 comments:

Tracy said...

I usually just do whatever I want. I'm a total rebel that way. :) Seriously though, it's like with every other process in life. You've got to figure out what works best for you and run with it. I say write with a certain amount of abandon, and then edit that sucker into submission.

Nickles said...

I usually don't edit until I finish my first draft. I feel like I just have to get all my ideas down and can be a rather impatient writer. But I don't think there is a right or wrong when it comes to writing. It's subjective and an art, so whatever is comfortable is the right way, usually for me. Good luck with the writing!

Jemi Fraser said...

I think that as long as you understand the "rules", you should feel free to break them when you know it's the right decision. Your gut and heart know your story and what it needs. Follow them!

I agree - the rules are really more guidelines, and some are trends. Do what works best for you. If we all wrote in the same way it would be BORING!!!

Bane of Anubis said...

Writing advice that I think's way overblown: write every day. In every other walk of life people take breaks to avoid burnout... why should writing be any different?

MeganRebekah said...

I think whoever said not to edit until the whole rough draft is done is full of poop. The story changes so much that the beginning is often no longer relevant by the time you reach the end. The only good in that advice is that it might push you to finish, and also, why go back and edit the beginning if it will be deleted later.

For me the editing often brings in a lot of new and important information that affects the rest of the book. I need a mix of writing and editing.

Don't worry if you don't have a finished draft to submit. I sure won't. Share what you have and what you're proud of. I think that's more important than forcing out words you don't like.

storyqueen said...

Hey MeganRebekah,

I am full of poop!

I never revise until it's done...but that's just me. I have to be able to write in snippets of time (what with work and all) and revise when I have huge chunks of time to live and sit inside of the world I have created. Because of my schedule, I cannot just revise on a whim. So I don't until I am done.

Natalie,

There is no one right way. One of my favorite writers (who blogs about her process) is Laini Taylor and she revises as she goes. She was a finalist for the National Book Award, so that method must work, too.

The main thing is to listen to the writer inside of you. She knows what you need to do and when you need to do it.

And if you don't finish your draft...so what? At least what you have will be something you are really pleased with.

Good Luck!!!

Shelley

Sara McClung ♥ said...

I agree... all writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt! There are so many different rules and methods and thoughts out there... I think if we each paid attention to every single one, we'd be stuck looking at a word document with perhaps one sentence written and too afraid to write on for fear of breaking some rule...

I am someone who doesn't edit while working on a first draft... But I know there are a lot of people it doesn't work for! You just have to write the way works for YOU. Not for anyone else.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You go, girl! I think we have to decide what works for us. Beating ourselves up is counter-productive anyway. I had a terrible, no good, awful week and I questioned whether I'd ever make it as a fiction writer. So I know what you mean about doubts. But I think having a community of writers like this really helps.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Thanks for the linkage. And I am the same way. I posted about it I think sometime last week on freewheeling vs. rewinding when drafting. I can't help but rewind. I have trouble moving forward otherwise. It doesn't need to be perfect but I need to be happy with where the story is going. So I'm with you. Let's rebel! Writing advice be darned. I'm going to edit as I go. :)

Tamika: said...

I realized after NaNo I needed to do this very thing in certain spots. It felt like a roadblock if I didn't.

I'm glad you're finding what works for you. Even at the rate you are going there is great progress being made.

Patti said...

I bow down to your wisdom. Excellent advice. No one writes the same and rules are meant to be broken. It's hard not to systematically go through your manuscript and get rid of the was' and the ly's, but maybe they're needed, maybe there's no other way to get the story across. I couldn't agree with you more.

Anissa said...

I think you've hit on the best writing advice out there. Figure out what works for you, then do it.

Melissa said...

You are absolutely right! There's no one way to do things when it comes to writing. You have to find your own path and stick with what works for you. One of my crit partners wrote a book in a little over two weeks, but she said she has to get the words out and rewrite them over and over again. While I'm in awe of her speed, I've accepted the fact that I'm not capable of doing that. It's going to take me months to get a first draft done, and I'm okay with that.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I definitely edit along the way, but not every day. I tried that and I only managed to write 86 pages in a year. Doublespaced.

So now I write until I feel like I've lost some of the story. I wrote 85 pages of Book #2 and then had to edit my first book (I was waiting for betas) and now I've lost my grasp on the story. So once HATSHEPSUT is out to agents I'm going to do a major edit and then start writing again.

You have to do what works for you! Otherwise you'll go banana bonkers.

VR Barkowski said...

Some of us find our story and characters *as* we write, even if we have an outline. What's wrong with doing a little editing? It will draw you deeper into the story. Now going back to page 1 and struggling over the first line for three days, that is another matter, entirely. :)

I agree with Jemi. The rules? Gotta have 'em, gotta know em, but voice is all about breaking 'em. If we all follow the same rules, we'll all sound the same - heaven forbid!

Catherine Denton said...

I enjoy seeing other writer's process. But I agree, you have to find your own way; make your own guidelines. I tend to "try on" what others do and if it works for me I keep doing it. Otherwise I toss it and keep moving on.

Valerie Geary said...

I, in fact, hate the piece of advice to put the first draft away for a month or two after you finish... what? This doesn't even make sense to me. And sounds like a vast waste of time. After the first draft I'm ready to dig in and get to the good stuff. I've got all sorts of ideas for edits and wild, fantastic prose running around in my head... why stop? I will put a piece away only after I think it's finished. But it's usually never for more than 2-3 weeks or however long it takes betas to get back to me. Anyway, that's just me. :) Good luck finding your perfect writer groove!!

ann foxlee said...

Oh, bless you Natalie, you have just made me feel so much better about the way I write! I am constantly editing.
Write three chapters, go back and edit the first. Write three more chapters, go back and edit the first three, write a few more, go back and... you get the picture.
Part of my writing process is to tidy up as I go. I cook the same way, washing while other things are bubbling on the stove.
And I kept kicking myself for it, because so many times I'd read that REAL writers don't edit that way, but now I think maybe it's just the right process for me! (sticks tongue out at people who say otherwise)

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm a writer/reviser too and it works for me. If it doesn't feel right, I simply can't go on. Why? Because I'm trying to find the right voice of this story and that means listening. Sometimes I delete whole passages and what comes after is what was really meant to be. Sometimes I cannibalize different sections until it comes out the way I want it.

It's so easy to get bogged down in the "should be's" that we lose all passion and love for the story. The story is the important part. Do what works for you AND your story. Listen to it. And then use the other voices that support your story's needs.

Thomas Taylor said...

I need to partly revise and edit as I go for reasons of morale as much of anything else. 80,000 words of rubbish is an awful burden to carry as I struggle to the end, but 80k of rather good material isn't.

I don't set myself goals as such, I just want to be successful and I know I'll have to work very hard for that!

Wendy said...

I think it's a bit like my guitar teacher was telling me today "learn the theory but if it sounds good, play it, who cares if it doesn't fit the rules?" I'm all for that.

And oh yes, I have those days of feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing. Oh yes. OH yes. Sure would be nice if we get over that one day, but I don't see it happening :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Such good thoughts! I'd struggle to finish a first draft if I felt like the first half of it needed redirection, so I think you're on the right track to rethink your strategy.

One "rule" that held me back was related to the advice to use vibrant word choices. So rather than saying "She walked", say "She sashayed" or something like that. In my first manuscript, I took this advice to heart when I did my self-edits. As a result, my critique partners said, "All these unique words keep distracting me." I also realized it was taking away my own voice, so now that I'm drafting my second manuscript I'm trying to let go of that rule in my head and just write things the way I'd say them.

CKHB said...

HA! I'm taking a writing class tonight called "the rules of writing, and when to break them."

Jody Hedlund said...

Very good advice, Natalie! In the end, we have to find out what works for us. I'm trying to hit my word count every day too. Even word counts are really just guidelines. They get us writing every day, and isn't that really the goal? If I can't meet that daily goal because I had to stop and research or revise a little, or delete, well, then that's okay. I wrote and that's what mattered!

laurel said...

Thanks for addressing this concern so openly. Why is it we feel the writing police are out there, ready to slap the cuffs on us if we don't follow certain "helpful guidelines" that don't feel helpful or particularly guiding at a certain point in our process? Crazy, really. And fear is such a terrible creativity killer.

It's good to be aware of the writing community's best practices, but who's to say you won't hit on some new ones yourself?

Susan R. Mills said...

I totally agree with you. I like to know what the guidelines are, but I also want to feel the freedom to break the rules if need be. Every book I've read over the past few months uses 'was', adverbs, etc. As far as editing while you go, if that works for you, I say, go for it.

Paul Greci said...

Natalie, I'm finding that with each book my process is slightly different.

Book two I revised as I wrote. I'd write a chapter,and do one revision on it, then move on. And at the beginning of each day, I reread and ended up revising the last chapter I worked on before moving on.

Book three, I did no revising until the first draft was complete.

And the new book I'm starting today--I'm not sure what the process will be.

I think you are wise to follow your inner writer. And I think that most writing advice from credible sources is good for something. I've read lots of books about writing, and have learned a ton but I also think that what one writer takes from a piece of advice could be very different from what another writer takes from the same piece of advice.

Good luck with your current project!!

Linda Kage said...

Right on! That's the best piece of writing advice yet. Listen to all the "experts" about the correct procedure, and file the information away in case you need to try something different later on, but go and do it your way, because at the end of the day, there are still no guarentees in the publishing world.

Amy Tate said...

Good for you! You know, when I attended SCBWI in NYC last year, that was the number one thing I brought home with me. Everyone has their way of doing things, and I needed to find me. That conference changed my writing life. It was the best gift I've ever given to myself. When I start writing in the mornings, I always edit just a bit before I jump into a new page, because it helps me get back into the story. I'm thrilled that you are finding your groove!

Sarah Skilton said...

Well said. I often find that going back and revising certain things when I think of them makes me feel more confident with the next scenes, and you've gotta find the right method for you.

Writing, like any art, can't be all about hard and fast rules or the creativity will be sapped dry. I think you're absolutely right about taking guidelines with a grain of salt. Good luck this week!!

Jamie D. said...

Sage advice here, Natalie. :-) You have to do what works best for you - and many writers do edit some as they go. Even among pros there are different processes, and really, it just doesn't matter as long as it works for you.

Personally, the only reason I don't edit as I go is because I'd never finish a draft if I did - I'd get bogged down in trying to make it "perfect" the first time. I think it would actually be more efficient to edit as you go, I just can't. But I am determined to learn revision in one pass...which is something many writers sneer at too (everyone seems to think many drafts are better). And yes, I use adverbs when I feel they're needed.

A lot of the writing advice out there is from unpubbed writers (like myself). I tend to seek out published authors and take advice they give with a little more weight, since they already are where I want to be.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

More power to you. Approach your writing the way that works for you now. That may change, and that's fine, too.

Dawn Simon said...

Awesome post! BTW, I truly believe we ALL have those icky days. So if misery loves company...well, you get it. ;)

I have my own funky way of doing first drafts, and I edit a bit as I go. I have my sh**ty first draft, but I use my own pattern, going back and forth, tweaking it enough so I feel comfy pushing forward. I love hearing how other writers do it, but I agree 100%--there is no right way. Find what works for you and do it! (And on a side note, I took a class from a super successful writer who edits his work as he goes, too.)

Tabitha Bird said...

'They' do NOT know everything. "They' are not writing your book. 'They' are not to ones who care when you are struggling to keep up with them. I have read on lots of blogs about 'best ways' to write. The thing is the 'best way' for any writer to write is the way it comes naturally to them. If you are a planner, then plan. If you are a seat of your pants edit later writer, then do that too. If you write 1000 words a day, write 1000 words a day. I am really none of these. I make time for 'writing' everyday and then what I do with that time might be edit, rewrite, read through my work, write my book, write a short, whatever. I hate writing rules for ways to work, because they don't work for everyone. Go you! You do what is right for you! That is always best :)

Jessica said...

No, I don't think I feel pressured anymore. I've heard the guidelines and feel comfortable now with how I write. I still try to do my best but I try not to get frozen by all the "rules".

I still have bad days though. LOL Just got to work through them, right? :-)

Shelby said...

No I don't feel pressure to do it a certain way because others say that's the 'way'.. I struggle with 'is it interesting'.. I just don't want to have stuff out there that's boring or 'halfass' sounding.. but I know it's likely. It's scary a bit (a lot).

Self doubt creeps in on me too often.

kathrynjankowski said...

I hear you, Natalie! In fact, I'm thinking of giving away most of my writing books.

No one has your voice. Trust it.

;-)

Joanne Fritz said...

Thank you SO much for this post, Natalie. I've been thinking many of those things you so eloquently stated. Because as much as I want to, I can't sit down and write an entire first draft without going back and editing myself.

And I'm glad to hear that you (and many of the people posting comments) feel it's okay to throw the rules out the window sometimes. If it worked for your first book, then by all means, go with it.

And, yeah, I have lots of those self-doubt days. I suspect we all do. That's where my writing group comes to the rescue and talks me out of it (and I do the same for them).

T. Anne said...

(I think my comment dissapeared oops darn word ver, or finger fail, either one)

I try my hardest to fit in a box, I really do. My brain just isn't square enough *sigh* that explains a lot.

B.J. Anderson said...

Amen to that! Yeah, I pretty much do what I want when I want. It's a free country. :D Of course, maybe that's why I'm not published, lol.

Erica said...

Oh yeah I had one of those days last week. I just kept staring at the page, like, this will never see the shelves... but then, one night, I fixed a plot hole that opened up a lot of great stuff! And just like that I felt better...

At one point, I'm sure every writer feels that way, it's only natural. First drafts are icky, I'm doing my best to make mine pretty right now :o)

I think it's good to take all advice with a grain of salt... I always listen to what everyone says, but in the end, I have to live with it... sounds like you've got the right idea :o)

Nishant said...

You've got to figure out what works best for you and run with it. I say write with a certain amount of abandon, and then edit that sucker into submission.

Work from home India

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Here's what I do...I gather all the bits of advice, the rules, the stories, etc.
I sit down, put my laptop in front of me, and throw all those grains of salt over my left shoulder for luck. Then I write the way I want to.
Can't wait to read your pre-NYC stuff. Woo hoo! :)
My Blog

Voidwalker said...

I try not to conform to what everyone else says they are doing, but honestly it can get me into trouble. Sometimes the reason why everyone else writes a certain way is because it is proven to be effective. I know I have to swallow my pride and conform sometimes, but not for everything! :P