This July I’ve been following along on the progress of Camp NaNoWriMo through different writers’ blogs. The impressive word counts, surprising ideas, and creative ways to push through that I see coming from all these writers are really inspiring. It’s exciting how the everyone’s-in-it-together energy becomes contagious and encourages writers to stretch their potential in ways they never would have before.
One of the stickiest issues writers tend to get caught up on is writing vs. editing. This happens especially if you’re working on your first manuscript, because you really have no idea what it’s supposed to look like.
There are a few common traps writers can fall into…
Writing a few pages and then re-reading them over and over again
The more you reread your first rough draft the more mistakes you will find. You’ll notice typos, feel the urge to add information and cut sentences, and cringe at the awkwardness of some of it. That’s totally normal. Every first sloppy draft is rambling and awkward or sparse and misspelled. That’s why it’s called your first sloppy draft.
Trying to revise and edit after writing every few pages only blocks your creative flow. You start focusing on everything that’s wrong instead of everything that’s right. You lose the enthusiastic, excited feeling of creating the story and descend into the nit-picky, critical vibe of dissecting all its problems.
Solution: Write a few pages every day, or every week, and then put those pages aside and write the next few pages. Only look back—and do it briefly—to give yourself a reminder of where you are in the story.
Starting with an outline of the story and then refusing to budge from it
Outlines can be helpful, yes, but there is no way you’re going to know how every chapter of your story plays out until you write it. You might have a pretty good idea of how it’s all going to end, or the message behind the action, but you will also find that a lot of the time your characters have their own ideas of what they want to do.
When you stubbornly stick to your outline and ignore your characters’ desires, they will punish you for it. By bringing in the attitude of resistance and rigidity, you block your creative flow. Creating your story is all about trust, and playfulness. Writing is actually supposed to be fun. You have plenty of time to restructure and revise later.
Solution: Let your story stream out of you as it comes. Let yourself have fun, and let it all hang out in your sloppy first draft. If you deviate from your outline, so be it. Creativity doesn’t work on schedule.
Seeking feedback too soon
Getting an objective critique from readers is essential to any writer who is sincerely trying to hone their craft, but there’s a time and place for everything. If you’ve just started your novel, or it’s your first novel and you’re feeling very raw and nervous about it, it’s not always helpful to seek objective feedback right away. Not only can it shut you down emotionally about the work, but you also might end up writing for the reader (trying to anticipate what they will and won’t like) and sacrificing your own individual writing voice.
The first sloppy draft of any creative work is like a tiny, quivering flame that you’re trying to grow into a full-fledged bonfire. It needs the right kind of fuel to keep it going and protection from the wind. When you get to the bonfire stage (i.e., you have an entire finished draft), then feel free to invite a bunch of friends over to toast marshmallows.
Solution: In the early stages, if someone even breathes too harshly on your idea, it could go out. Keep your story close to you and protect it from prying eyes for a while. Use your energies to concentrate on adding a little more to it each day.
Each of the traps I’ve covered above all have to do with making sure you keep your creative flow open and preventing the blockage of that flow. There is a reason that editing/revising work tends to dampen our creative flame, and it can be explained using Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory. We’ll examine that in detail next post.
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