Q&A: Daily Revisions or Forge Ahead?
Q: I am finding that when I sit down each day to continue my writing, I read everything I’ve written so far in order to get back into the flow. When I do this I have the tendency to hate something I loved a few days ago, so I want to go back and change it – making the whole process very slow, and sometimes discouraging. Is it just me, or is this a common problem?
— Lawrence Bell
A: It’s definitely not you, Lawrence. This is a common problem among writers and presenters in all disciplines.
There’s nothing wrong with rereading what you’ve done already – and even editing and rewriting the parts you can improve – PROVIDED you’re still making progress.
If you’re stuck or discouraged, it’s possible that you “hate” what you liked before because you’re subconsciously avoiding moving forward and finishing the draft. Those voices that keep telling you how awful your writing is are simply trying to block you from some deeper fear — of judgment, of change, of failure, of success, or of facing a new rewrite.
If this is the case, take a different approach: reread what ONLY what you wrote over the last day or two, just to get back in the flow. You can even mark places or make short notes any time you encounter something you think could be better. But DO NOT REWRITE anything until the first draft of your script or speech or article is done.
This means your draft will be finished more quickly; you’ll have overcome a big hurdle; and from now on whatever you do will be rewriting – no more facing the blank page.
Like all questions about the writing process, there is no one right answer. You’ve got to play around until you find the combination that is right for you. The only criteria for defining your own processes are: 1) Are your stories moving forward? and 2) Are you having fun writing?
When the answer is yes to both, you’re doing fine.
My go back and fix is a TK. That’s something newspapers use. It stands out and easy to find and leaves me sure that I will go back and find everything I need.
Hope this helps.
I find if I reread the previous day’s work I find many errors or simple mistakes that can be caught early.
The game is to keep moving forward and finish draft one. Sometimes I rewriting helps me see if
the story is developing at a good pace or not.
Hey Michael my friend,
Hope this finds you well out there!
I thought I’d chime in in re; Lawrence’s query and to say hello to you.
To Lawrence’s sentiments:
Yes, you betcha it’s common place for us writer’s/authors/penners. I think it was once stated best in an old adage`, where the coiner stated, “We’re our own worst critics.” Aren’t we tho? Weren’t they right or spot-on?
I find my greatest challenge, in writing or getting words on paper is, “believing in myself as “worthy of” something to share or say. And I’ve found that, “in listening” to what my readers or friends share after they read something I’ve written, “If I truly HEAR and give honor to what they’ve shared, I would realize it’s not “up to me” to decide my worthiness as a writer-storyteller, it’s my readers place to like it or not.
It’s my job as a writer-storyteller to write, craft and tell stories, and hopefully, my readers will really enjoy what I’ve shared.
Write, Write… Write!
Save the editing for later as Michael said. We can always modify/edit aft. Getting it all down on paper is the hardest thing to do (typically) across the board in the literary field.
If you were to look up (as I once did) “what is the hardest thing for a writer to do?” You’d find nearly every single one of the greatest writers of all time stating the same, “Getting the story finished or all down on paper.” Hands down… that’s the biggy!
My best to everyone, and many blessings Michael my friend!
Keep On Writing and Telling The Stories! We really DO… wish to know YOURS!
Thank you, Michael!
I agree with Michael in that it is best when beginning a day’s work to reread only the previous day’s work, or at most the last two days’ worth, rewriting as needed, before beginning anew. Otherwise one becomes bogged down in endless tinkering and the flow of the work can be lost, disrupted by insertions and rewrites that throw off the rhythm of the piece.
Best to get to the end of your story and then go back, presumably months later, for a fresh read-through and edit, when you can see the story with fresh eyes, more like your intended reader. Mistakes will be more evident when the story is read afresh, and disruptions of the flow more obvious.
Speaking of disruptions of the flow (and I speak as a writer of adventure novels) I am thoroughly surprised at some of the tangents and sidetracks indulged in by Tom Clancy, now that I am reading Clear and Present Danger, all 656 pages of it. Great portions of it most certainly do NOT further the plot and could (probably should) have been excised. One wonders what his editor was doing to earn his keep. Whoever adapted the book as a screenplay did the author a favor!
I don’t know if it’s a “confidence” thing as much as a “perfection” thing. For me, I want everything I write to be perfect, and it’s not just in my fiction writing. I’ll spend fifteen minutes on an email that should take me three.
One of my struggles is letting go of that perfection in the first draft phase. I’ll have a fabulously crafted and – yes – nearly perfect first quarter of my book (because I’ve read those chapters quite literally hundreds of times), then it’s steadily downhill because I’m on a deadline, and the last quarter of my book is (or at least feels) rushed and awful because it is. And why? Because I’ve written it in a weekend.
One of the more useful things I heard was at a Steven James’ (author of many thrillers) workshop. If you’re a rewriter and a tinkerer, you’re not going to change. You need to embrace it, control it, discipline it. So I’ve gotten in the habit each day of looking at my allocated writing time (for me this changes day to day due to other life obligations, but I try to write 3-4 hours every morning.) I do log what I’m working on every day in a journal, so I’m clear on what I worked on the previous day. I allow myself one-quarter of my writing time to reread, review, revise, revisit old material, mostly what I’ve written the prior day, but sometimes I’ll go back farther if I feel like it. It doesn’t matter because I am free to do this and I have given myself permission to do so.
How do I do this? I quite literally set a timer. I use the one on my phone, but a kitchen timer or stop watch would work. If my writing time for that day is three hours, then I have 45 minutes to review and do edits and rewrites. And when that timer goes off, I make myself stop and start working on that day’s material. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally go back and do a “needed” rewrite; when a plot problem in a new section requires that I make changes to already written material, but if you’re tinkering endlessly, get out the kitchen timer – and when that “ding” sounds, pull up the new section and start typing.
Awesome advice. Some wise words I need to hear every day.
I would also add that planning, and then going through the plan in my head, goes a long way with me. I will come up with a plan for a sequence or a big scene or an arc, jot the notes down, then let it gestate in my head, actually going over it scene by scene in my head, before I write it down. Usually I go for long car rides with the radio off. I have to stay alert to drive, but I’m moving and thinking in silence. I pull over when I have to write something down. Just seems to work for me. I might let something gestate like that for a month, then sit down and write 100 new pages in 3 days. Like I said, that seems to work well for me. Burns a lot of gas, though.
Wow. Me to a “tee.” I spend more time in re-write than actually putting new pages down. Definitely a confidence thing. It’s like I’m spending more time shuffling around the edge of the cliff than actually getting out on the tightrope and walking.