You’ve likely seen or heard this advice many times already. It’s all over theory books on writing, and when you ask for tips online, this will be in there somewhere. You might also think it’s rubbish! I know several writers who swear they can’t continue writing until they’ve at least proofread the chapter they wrote the day before, and you may well be one of them! Today, I’ll try to change your mind. There’s a reason so many books on the topic tell you to wait, after all!
This will sound cliche, but when you write there’s a chance you eventually get into ‘the zone’ (you can shake your heads at me for being cheesy all you want, I’m not taking it back). It’s that wonderful place where you just write and your characters take control over the words and the book begins to write itself, when your hands merely channel whatever it is your characters want to do and say. You create your strongest writing like this, and need to make the smallest amount of changes later.
This is because the longer you stop to go over what you’ve already written, the more you distance yourself from your writing, and the harder it will be to continue. First drafts aren’t about perfection, they’re about getting a book written. Striving for perfection regardless is a good way to drive yourself insane, friends!
I know from personal experience that the words will begin to flow on their own if I let them. My characters start to have conversations, notice things about each other and their surroundings I wasn’t aware of and couldn’t have planned if I tried, and take control of the story without my meddling. It’s tempting to read over what you’ve already written and fix your spelling here and there when the words aren’t coming, but that’s a good way of stopping them from coming altogether. When I’ve struggled with my writing before, it was always because I focused on the last day’s chapters when I should have been focusing on the blank pages ahead of me.
This is one of the many reasons I love Scrivener’s full screen mode so much. All you see is your current chapter, and your notes. The rest of your book and social media are off the screen. I urge you to try it if you haven’t already – it’s liberating!
You can do the annoying bit later. When you write, write. The edit can wait.
There’s one exception, of course, and it’s the only one. If you know it’s not working – be that a character, the POV, the tense, the direction your story has taken – you’ve probably got work to do before you should continue. Otherwise, you’re only going to increase your headache, and why do that before you even start the first edit? Your headaches will be frequent enough later on as it is *quiet sobs*
If you realise partway through that a character doesn’t add anything, there’s no point continuing as is. Either figure out how to make the character relevant, or cut them. If you realise that the book would work better in first person with one POV, there’s no point continuing in third person with three POVs. These are all large-scale developmental changes, however, not a quick proofread and grammar check. Those little changes can wait, you hear? The big, plot-altering changes should probably be addressed sooner.
Incidentally, it’s when I write without getting distracted by silly spelling errors that my characters are more likely to fix those large scale problems for me. I don’t worry about plot holes anymore because I know my characters will sort them!
Say it with me, friends: My first draft is not about perfection. It’s about getting the book written. And the edit WILL wait.
Don’t jump into the edit as soon as you’ve finished your first draft, though! I know how tempting this is, but you’re not doing yourself or your WIP any favours if you rush it. Leave your draft alone – some people leave theirs for a couple of weeks, others for years – and come back to it once you’ve focused on something unrelated for a while. It’s impossible to see your draft with fresh eyes, but the longer you leave it, the easier it’ll be. I left Darkened Light to marinate for six months, and the edit is easy, friends!
How long do you leave your draft before you start editing? Make yourself a tea, find some biscuits, and let’s chat!
Please note: October will be all about preparing for the month-long madness that is NaNoWriMo! Therefore, we’re going to take a little break from this series next month to focus on NaNo prep. There’ll be a new post every Tuesday to help you prepare without overdoing it – we want to be excited for our WIPs and ready to dive in, but not so focused on all the tiny details that we get too lost in them to write! I hope you’ll join me in my NaNo prep sessions! Bring a notebook and a pen, and let’s do a bit of prep – but not too much 😉
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