Contrary to what my friends in sci-fi gaming think, I’m not suggesting you throw yourself out an airlock…
Writing is a complex process. Technically, it’s a compound-complex process; literally a process made up of multiple complex processes. Sure, it may seem simple, if you only do a few of the steps or your goal is a C grade on a high school essay. But creating good writing takes a lot of effort, and getting it into “print”, or even read, takes multiple skill sets.
Salesmanship, negotiation, marketing, finance, resource management; they’re all part of the process. And then there are the ‘pure’ writing skills…
Among the ‘pure’ writing skills there’s still a lot to talk about. There’s outlining, vocabulary, syntax, punctuation…. Lots of things to talk about. (Diagramming sentences has a purpose, but the day I write a post about it SHOOT ME! (Or at least find me some anti-depressants…)). Among the big processes are editing (which can be broken down into sub-processes (example: the 1 ½ pass editing method)) and actually writing a draft.
While I agree with Steven King, fix those typos when you find them (don’t wait!), it’s usually a good idea to put your internal editor on hold while working on that initial draft. In fact, it might be a good idea to let a little time pass between first draft and editing push.
Drafting and editing are separate processes
Drafting is actually creating a piece of writing. It might be preceded by outlining and research, or it might not. Drafting involves initial idea formation and creation of big pieces of the story. Editing is taking your draft and shaping it. Refining bits. Filling in gaps. Removing extraneous material. And of course, the spelling/syntax/punctuation stuff known as copy editing… Editing might include outlining (sometimes re-outlining) and research, but it might not.
Actually, some parts of editing should contain research (fact checking or filling in holes) and other parts shouldn’t (If you’re down the final polish stages there shouldn’t be any (for this project at least) if there is, you have problems…). Some editing might not include the spelling/syntax/punctuation stuff (other than killing errors you spot while doing other things). Don’t let a bug hunt impede doing the big stuff.
In fact, that’s why I recommend avoiding editing while creating your first draft. Worrying about the little details; wringing your hands about exact/perfected wording, ‘Sweating the commas’ 235 words into a 50,000+ word novel, and other ‘editing stuff’ can impede doing the creative work. I’ve seen many young writers get lost in these editing issues and never finish a first draft.
There’s also a time to quit drafting and start editing. You have an end, you have a beginning, and you have something in the middle. It might not be the right end. It probably won’t be the actual beginning. And your something in the middle… only the writing gods can speak to that. But the time arrives where you need to stop creating new material. Call that first draft done. Set it down for a while. And then come back and start building your draft into a polished piece of writing. Now is the time to let your inner editor out and send the initial creator part of your mind on to some other project. Because the initial creator can get in the way to…
Sometimes forgetting is a good thing
The initial creator part of us thinks it got the whole story out. In your mind it’s clear that the reference in chapter five ties back to that witty comment in chapter one. But readers might not see it that way. When we just wrote something, the connections are clear in our minds because we remember creating it; we know why we put it there. When we set the writing down, those connections weaken. When we come back later, we can see the things that don’t connect.
We won’t forget everything. We remember the stories we create. But giving it space and time allows the connections to fade. Our experience comes closer to that of a first-time reader. And, for everyone but us, there’s still a first time reading it (we got our ‘first time’ while writing it…). Understanding how that first-time reader sees the work is one key (of many) to success in creating a piece of work that will be read (and re-read. And shared. And commented on. And…). We can get help from other readers, but not giving ourselves the opportunity to see the work from a new, or at least rested, perspective is kind of like driving with your eyes shut and hoping your passengers will warn you about problems.
Sometimes the gap will be longer than others. The differences are in the kind of writing we do and the time table you’re on (that term paper can’t wait till next semester and that blog post is comparatively short, but that 100,00-word novel… You’ve been working on that for a while. It’s rooted. You may need more than a night’s sleep or a lunch break before editing).
What to do in the meantime
There’s lots to do actually. Have you gotten exercise lately? Cleaned the house? Eaten properly? Do you remember that other project you’ve been meaning to work on? All of those are good suggestions.
The cleaning, nutrition, exercise, and having a life stuff can all help bring our bodies and minds back into alignment to continue the work. The ‘other project’ stuff can help us in the forgetting and resetting helping us look at the writing with fresh eyes. It gets our minds off what we put on that page and on to something else. That way, when we get back to editing (and please come back dear reader) we have those fresh eyes. We can find and fix our issues (or at least some of them) before we show the work to someone else. It improves our image with others and can save us time and frustration.
We need to do the drafting. We need to do the editing. And we can gain a lot by getting a little rest in-between.
That’s it for this one dear reader (until I come back and edit tomorrow…) Develop your skills, perfect your message, and… I’ll see you next post.