Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Defining the Draft

I am not a fast writer.

It pains me to say it, but it's true. Those people who can write four books a year, they're superhuman in my opinion. Even two books a year seems to be beyond my capabilities. Because even when I set aside time to write, the words come slowly. Five hundred in a day is a lot. A thousand, huge. So while I've tried to do NaNo, on more than one occasion, I always end up failing because I simply cannot write that many words in a day. And here's the reason why:

I'm an editor.

When I sit down to write, I read over the stuff I wrote the day before, in part to remind myself where I am in the story. Often I'll think of a better way to say something, flesh out sensory details, add a line or two to make things more clear. And THEN I start adding new words. Sometimes I'll go back even further, to a section that was giving me trouble and try to work it out. Sometimes I'll spend my entire writing time doing edits like this.

There are people who say not to do this on the first draft. Power through. Get it done.

I can't. It obviously works for plenty of people, but it just doesn't mesh with me. And frankly, I'm tired of hearing rules. I've decided that there isn't any right or wrong when it comes to writing. There's just getting it done.

One good thing about writing this way, is that by the time I get to the end, I have a pretty well written first draft. But if I've done that many edits on it, is it still a true first draft? Judging by the number of revisions I've made on one story in particular, I'd say yes. Because every time I think it's done, I find myself rewriting it. Again.

What about you? Do you power through or are you more of a writer/editor?


Kristan Hoffman said...

Are you sure you're not a mindreader? Because everything in this post made me nod and say, YES, EXACTLY!

I have struggled for years (and still do, on occasion) with the fact that I am not a fast writer. I know this process will never be "easy," but I sure hope I can at least one day get past THAT hurdle and just accept my method instead of letting it frustrate me so.

Heck, even 1 book a year is probably not realistic for me at this point. (1 first draft a year? Definitely.) I think I'm more like 2 books every 3 years right now, and THAT IS OKAY. (... Right?)

Thanks for sharing, Sherrie. You don't talk about your process a ton, but it's nice to know we have this one thing in common. :)

Melissa Maris said...

I want to meet the writers who DON'T do this and find out their secret! It's impossible for me to just pick up where I left off. Like you, I always feel compelled to read back a bit and edit.

Laura Pauling said...

I leave notes for myself if I know what needs to be done and I keep going on. I only stop to edit if what needs to be rewritten is book changing. That can't wait b/c it would affect what I'm writing now.

And there are no rules. No way to do it. I don't do Nano either though I almost did this year. We all have to write how it works for us!

Though some would argue that if you are going to have to significantly change a section - why spend time editing as you go? I think that's the argument against it. And that has never been more true than with my recent wip. I have written and totally rewritten whole sections in the middle and the end many times.

Tess said...

there are people out there who can write 4 books a year? wowza! It's the opposite for me...maybe one book in four years :o. Seriously though, I am a writer/editor as well. Inch by inch...

Unknown said...

I'm the same way, and it seems no matter how much I try, I continue to write this way. But, at the end of the day, it's all about what works best for YOU. :)

Krispy said...

I'm absolutely the same way! I always have to go back and reread to get my mind in the right place, and when I do that I have to edit. I'm not a fast drafter at all.

I've done NaNo but have never won for this reason, but I like doing it because it does force me to get the words flowing. That does help, but in the end, I prefer the editing-as-I-go way. I just wish it was faster!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What Laura said! Especially about the going back and re-writing whole sections from scratch again. I used to be exactly like you, Sherrie, honest! And you know I'm not that way now. I'm not saying you have to change, because I'm a firm believer in doing what works for you. The thing that shook me loose from that style of writing was two things: 1) I found the end result of a given chapter was better when I wrote fast, then revised&revised&revised. I didn't expect this, it just happened. There was something about the freedom to make mistakes, to be sloppy, to just let the voice out that freed me to seriously slash and cut on the revisions to come up with something better in the end. And 2) my conversion to outlining. I'm outlining Book Three right now, and it's really almost like a mini-first-draft in note form. Because I can mold and shape the story in outline/draft form more easily, without having to worry about the words that will actually render it on the page. Not yet. That comes later.

So, do you have to write this way? Absolutely not! But anytime you say you can't do something is probably the time you should give it a whirl and see if you surprise yourself! :)

Lisa Reiss said...

I'm definitely an editor, too. It just works that way for me. I'd LOVE to plow through a story and get it all down, I just can't do it that way. What usually happens is that I tend to write faster once I get past the dreaded middle, and THAT section gets written faster, so the opening, which has been raked over and over, is very tight and edited, while the ending often feels rushed and then needs a ton of rewrites. The only thing that hurts me is (like right now) if I wait too long to get things down during the first draft, I find myself losing steam and the story lacks. That's when I turn to my writers group. (Who I am so thankful for!) I guess we all do what is best for each of us. Hey, as long as I'm writing, I'm happy. :)

Ryshia Kennie said...

I don't think there's any one way to write. Some of us are editors in the beginning and some of us just have to get the words out before they're lost. I edit some but mostly have to get the words out. Writing straight through with less editing just means I'm more than likely going through more drafts to get to final copy.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Kristan: Ha! I wish I could read minds! Though I do understand your frustration. Accepting my method is not easy for me, but the one book I outlined completely never got finished. I may be slow this way, but at least I get done!

Mel: I know a few of those writers. They are highly organized -- something I've never been good at.

Laura: I leave notes to myself too. But even though sections might be changed and/or deleted, I need to write them. It tells me more about my character and helps me get to the better stuff.

Tess: Yeah, can you believe it? There ARE people who do that and their books are pretty good, too! But I'm glad to know there are just as many of us inching along :)

Tina: Exactly right! We all have our own methods. As long as we get to the end, I say go for it!

Krispy: I totally get what you're saying about getting your mind in the right place. And you're right that NaNo does force you to get the words flowing. But my critique group does that, too. Thank goodness!

Susan: I'm the complete opposite! My chapters are better when they aren't done fast. The only novel I wrote in a month (six weeks, actually) is still moldering on my hard drive -- you've read it! Trust me, readers are better off when I take my time :)

Lisa: Aren't writers' groups the best? I know having their critiques has made me a much better writer. No matter what your writing style, everyone can benefit from a critique group.

Ryshia: I don't think there's any one way to write either. That's the beauty of this business. No one can tell you you're wrong because as long as you get to the end, you're doing the right thing!

JeannetteLS said...

When I wrote for a living, writing profiles of professors, and short pieces, I still wrote a first draft. However, I never submitted a thing to the editor/director before my THIRD edit. I couldn't.

Yet on my blog? It depends. Sometimes I put it up quickly. I write stream of consciousness so that I do not sensor Too much. Experience has kept me from blurting, but I still try not to edit until I have let it sit there a bit.

But you are published with a byline and have written books. I haven't. I suspect, though, I'll still have the same approach. NOT to edit at first, but then to slash, then edit. And do a final quick edit because, of course, nothing can be perfect.

Marcia said...

I am EXACTLY like you in this.

Anthony Lee Collins said...

When I'm writing, I move ahead (I always write first drafts on paper, partly because I enjoy it and partly because it reduces the desire to go back and fiddle -- editing is what happens on the computer).

But I definiltely don't "power through," since I post as I write, so each section is gone over again and again before I move on to the next, since I'm about to make it public.

I don't think there are right and wrong methods -- if the end result is good, that's what counts.

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