Friday, May 9, 2008

To Write or Not To Write (today)

My writing is slowing down. I am reaching that point more often when I stare at the page and wonder what to write. It isn't writer's block. It isn't that I don't have something to write. It's that I could take the narration in several directions. It's that as I am putting the words down I think, "This is going to take a major overhaul." It's that, when looking back on some of the writing I did earlier that I thought was great, it is pretty stinky, and I am afraid of writing more of the same.

So the question I have for you, fellow authors, is this:

When you worry that what you are writing is going to require tons of rewriting and editing, let alone polishing, do you barrel through it, writing anyway, or do you stop and really think about what to write, getting much less if anything on the paper (or computer screen as it is)?

The fear is that if I stop, I will stop for too long, and I will lose the voice, and valuable time and if I don't, I will write stuff that will ruin the book in the long run.

Am I taking this all too seriously?


  1. Yup.

    My first finished novel (not the one that just got mailed) took 7 years. In that time I had to have a second baby and kind of check out mentally for a couple of years, and move house, and all that. But mostly I spent a lot of time blinking at the screen and being afraid to write crap.

    Now this book (4th completed) I just barreled through it. Sometimes I knew I was writing crap but I just had to keep going or I'd stagnate. I just didn't want to get out of the habit of writing it!

    I did rewrite - a lot. But I didn't ruin it by fighting through. I just had more to fix at the end, and I think that's okay.

    Also, I sometimes skipped ahead with this one. It meant going back and filling in a few scenes, but if I was stuck, I could keep it flowing.

    You know what, I don't think there's any one way to do this. But I do know that playing Tetris does not get my novel written and neither does staring at the wall!

  2. Ha ha! Exactly! If nothing is coming, though, I do stare at the screen rather than do something "momerly" like laundry or dishes, just so I don't get out of the habit of writing.

    Today, though, in the end I had a scene in my head that I knew I wanted to write. It was probably a page or two away from where I was, and so, after writing and erasing a dozen different paragraphs, I finally just skipped to the story I knew how to tell and will trust the rest to fill itself in.

    The first book was great experience in that... I should trust just moving on and forward, and know that when the time is right, it will come to me.

    Sometimes it's hard to trust that though. And it's always good to hear what other writers do.

  3. I generally stop and think about it, because it can actua take more time to go back and patch up a leaky first draft than it can to go slow and get it at least mostly right the on the first pass. That being said, during first draft writing, I set an artifical limit for my self of 1 week: if I have not been able to decide on what happens next to the point that I've written no new draft pages in 1 week, then I will just force myself to 'barrel through' no matter what. This might happen once during a first draft, certainly no more than twice. Usually after 2 days of stalling I outline my way out of it. Research can help a lot too. Just Google a topic related to your novel and start reading random sources--yo'd be surprised how much it generates in terms of possibilities for plot direction.

  4. Anon - great advice! Research can help sometimes, but I am a bit of a research junkie, so if I don't watch it, I will end up with hours and hours of tedious detail. But I agree with trying to get it mostly right the first time around. I'm not a huge fan of the major overhaul, and I think it leads to sprouting leaks all over the place!

    I like your idea of a time limit. A week seems reasonable to give myself to work it out.

    As for this scene I was working on when I wrote it... I ended up skipping the page or two after what I'd written to work on the next scene. Now I just have to figure what needs to happen in between that gets the main character from one place to the other.

    Thanks for your thoughts!