There are various subreddits on reddit dedicated to the process of writing. As a recent convert to reddit (I say recent, it’s been months now) I’ve lurked in the background, reading others posts and generally getting a feel for this subreddit and others. In this short time I’ve noticed something rather interesting.
There is a huge focus on getting words onto the page – as many as possible, as quickly as possible.
The idea is to have the structure of the novel prepared, and then when the actual writing begins it’s a mad dash to the finish. Get that first draft out. Get the words on the page – their quality isn’t important at this stage. It’s about numbers.
I agree – somewhat.
It’s true that the mid-point of the first draft kills an awful number of writers.
The weight of your characters, the plot, the world, the number of words – it’s a heavy weight on your shoulders. If you pause to think then you risk returning to previous chapters, and you might see something out of place there, so you get out your red pen and pick around a bit… before you know it, you’ve fallen into the trap of editing before the work is actually finished, and by shifting things around with your red pen you’ve redefined a character, and then you have to go back further to clarify their new characteristics, and then you have to red pen through later chapters because he/she wouldn’t behave like she/he did now…
So pushing on through is a helpful tip in that it prevents you from leaning back into an editorial role, but it’s risk/reward. A risk, in that you could finish your first draft after pushing your way through, and then, when looking back on it, realise just how much you hate the damn thing. You hate how much more work you’ll need to do to get it up to scratch, you hate your characters, you hate the way you’ve described the environment. The process of getting thousands of words down on a page is largely helpful for plot, but does little to make the world/characters believable.
Note taking and signposting are essential when operating.
Being able to return to problematic parts of the text easily really alleviates the anxiety of seeing the whole of your book and not knowing where to start. The process of editing and rewriting thus becomes formulaic – items can be corrected as you comb back through the text from beginning to end. You’ll find the start of your book becomes more certain with each edit, as you’re now working with the knowledge of all of the later chapters rather than stumbling in the dark.
But the rougher the first draft, the more work you’ll have to do when it comes to editing and rewriting, and this is often overlooked. We become so focused on finishing the project that we fail to consider the various processes that come afterwards.
Consider what happens after the first draft – the quicker you write, the rougher the draft and the more work you’ll have to do to fix it up. Find your balance.
So my response to this is to find a pace that works for you, and ignore the rantings of those who swear by a certain number of words a day. This methodology is suitable for some – sure – but if you’re not a thousand-words-a-day-fanatic and you force yourself to type, then when it comes to combing through your first draft you’ll find yourself getting terribly irritated at the quality of your own writing. Like all things in life, writing is about balance. It’s not a race to the end.