Just recently I came across this bit of wisdom in this quote from Joshua Wolf Shenk. It reads:
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”
I started writing notes for my novel in 2011. I spent about a year and a half in this phase of this project as I had so many ideas for the story. Too many in fact. I went through numerous plot and structure changes. I originally planned to have an adventurous young boy and a timid teenage girl be the two protagonists, but I quickly discovered I was creating cardboard characters and ended up merging the two into Victoria Sparc, whom I feel is much more rounded as an individual. I changed the backstory for the world presented in the novel numerous times (and it may undergo yet more revisions) so that it makes more sense.
It wasn’t until nearly the end of 2012 that I began to write the rough draft. Out of a total of 24 chapters, I’m only now on chapter 10 in 2017. At the current rate of progress, the rough draft won’t be finished until 2024. Clearly, this is not acceptable. So what happened?
Well for starters, I’ve spent way too much time on the first six chapters. Chapters 3 and 4 suffered many rewrites. Chapters 5-8 were scrapped and rewritten. Chapters 5 and 6 were both rewritten no less than three times each. Not only that, I’ve dealt with the birth of three children, changing jobs, moving, and unemployment issues since my first initial notes were written in 2011.
Yet, as the quote above indicates, I’ve struggled with trying to write perfectly. I get frustrated when I’m on a descriptive passage and I can’t find any words beyond just basic cookie-cutter words to describe what my characters are experiencing. I hate it when I sense that my written dialogue seems basic and indistinct from character to character.
It’s frustrating and every writer that’s even halfway decent probably has suffered through struggles similar to mine. I don’t like to think of myself as a bad writer, and I think that’s why it’s so painful that sometimes my own writing just reads like the garbage that it is.
So there I am, staring at the blank page waiting to be filled, knowing that I must put something down. Then I think about all the things I must do with this scene and I begin to get stymied. What is its purpose? How do I place the action? What further scenes will this scene set-up? What scenes does this call back from? Is this consistent with where I last left these particular characters? Are the actions and dialogue that I’m planning consistent to what’s come before and the direction I need them to go?
Before I know it, I’m editing words I have yet to write. I’ve stopped before I’ve started. The pressure I put on getting it right the first time becomes tremendous and I forget that with all the planning and thought, I already know what I want to express. If I don’t get exactly what I want, I can review it later and learn from where the writing veered off course.
I started writing This Lonely Climb with the intention of posting to this site without editing just to get back into the feel of writing from intuition and letting the story and characters take me where they naturally need to go. I’m not sure yet if I was successful in this effort as I again found myself editing unwritten words. I’ll revisit the story and maybe rewrite it after some editorial reflection, but switching off that editor’s mindset before writing is difficult. The only way to do it is to be okay with the possibility of writing crap. After all, stilted writing produced under the editor’s mindset is crap anyway. Why not write without that limitation?