Monday, July 11, 2011

Write, don't edit

I am happy to report that I am back on the writing wagon, after a brief stumble late last week. So, hooray for the resumption of forward progress! That progress is a bit slower than it has been up to now, but I've averaged at least my 500 word quota per day over the weekend.

Said weekend was fraught with serious problems on the personal front (which are still ongoing and shall be for the foreseeable future), and in the course of dealing with those problems, I managed to lose track of exact word counts, but I do know what the overall word count of the WIP was as of last night, and it has put the first draft over 28% complete:
It's always interesting to see how confronting problems in my non-writing life affects my writing progress. Sometimes, I will use the writing to "self-medicate" by diving into it even more obsessively, finding a measure of comfort, I suppose, in my complete control over the fictional world I'm building and certainly a healthy dose of escapism.

However, no neurotic worthy of the label would sit still indefinitely for creating something positive out of a negative experience; it's contrary to the by-laws of our guild. Accordingly, as the excrement has impacted the air circulation device, I've found myself periodically drifting toward really unproductive thoughts about my novel. Contrary to the approach I've been espousing in this blog and trying valiantly to live up to, I've found myself spending time editing the old rather than churning out the new. Part of that is due to my brain being filled with a lot of extraneous worry and more chaos than normal--it's damned hard to map out where I want a scene to go (or even start) when three or four real-life crises are pounding on the window and screeching like manic owls.

But another factor in my reversion to revision over slogging forward through new territory is that my personal difficulties have simply made me more vulnerable to the host of fears that tend to plague most writers, especially we of the unpublished variety.  I know this, and I've tried hard over the past few days to keep my editorial busyworking to a minimum, but I was still grateful for the timing of today's entry on Kristen Lamb's Blog, Editing-Meet the Novel-Killer.

In her post, Kristen asserts that a novelist should forego those edit-as-you-go sessions in which one frets over word choices, corrects grammar and spelling, and rewrites passages or whole scenes. She doesn't argue that you shouldn't look over what has been written or that you should never correct things or act on ideas you have for changes. What she strenuously advises against is deleting anything. Her argument is that a WIP is akin to a blind planting; you don't really know what kind of seeds are being sown (because a lot of them are being sown by your subconscious mind), and therefore, in deleting material at this stage, you may actually be digging up some of those seeds before you even know what's going to come up out of the ground.

Kristen also maintains that too much editing can be a form of procrastination and can also sap your enthusiasm for the project, giving you too much time to "think" about the idea and your execution and providing an "in" for all those doubts that are always on the outskirts waiting to help you sabotage your own efforts.

So I'm going to hang onto this advice (I highly recommend that you go read the article for yourself) and use her idea of non-deletion as a way to fence off an area that can be a fertile ground for my own negative thinking, especially during a fairly dark time in my "real" life. I hope this will result in my crossing the 30% mark by the end of this week. :)


Laura Stanfill said...

I'll go check Kristen's article out. I'm actually back at the start of my novel this week, after our character motivation discussion and due to a Scenezilla of my own. It's more of a survey of where my character has been so I can get a better grasp on how he's changed in the first 200 pages. But I don't want to get caught up in nitpicky edits, either!

Leanne D. Baldwin said...

Laura, I realize that in talking about character motivation being a necessary thing to have hammered out in order to make the plot unfold, it's possible that I seem to be giving advice here that sounds contradictory, so I want to be more explanatory on that score.

I do think that a plot must spring from character development and from character motivations. However, in a first draft, I don't think that making the plot "work" should be the primary goal, maybe not even an important goal. I have a feeling that if we would just slap the stallion on the butt and concentrate on hanging on for the duration of the ride, we'd wind up with a first draft that, yes, is all over the place, but which ends up in roughly the place it should and is full of energy and excitement.

If we keep pulling on the reins and making the horse go places it doesn't want to, we are more likely to kill the energy and momentum with every "improvement" we make. I think we need to stop thinking of the first draft as something that we are going to show to people (and which therefore needs to "make sense") and start forcing ourselves to see it as the means to finding out just what the story is going to be.