We're all usually in various stages of writing. At any given moment, some of us are dealing with life, and barely able to find time to write, while others are so prolific, the rest of us can only shake our heads in wonder. Most of us are somewhere in between -- not pounding out the pages we'd like to be doing, but getting it done. For those of us who are struggling, the causes are as varied as they are universal. One of the things that I have noticed come up over and over, has to do with someone getting stuck on a piece of writing. "I've painted myself into a corner," or "I don't know where this is going," or even "I just can't get it to come out as good on paper as it does in my head." And whenever someone shares the frustration of being stuck, another member will gently remind that person not to edit while he or she is writing.
That's what re-writes are for.
I have to admit that I am one of those who wants everything to be perfect before I move on to the next chapter, section, paragraph, or sentence. I will labor for untold lengths of time over a sentence, trying to make it sound better, more thrilling, more enticing, more mysterious. Just...more. And when it doesn't work out, I'll go back to it the next day, determined to make those lines jump off the page and live, like Frankenstein's monster after the lightning strike.
Here's the problem: while I'm toiling over those sentences like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill over and over again, only to have it slip by him and roll, crashing, back to the bottom each time, you know what I'm not doing? Finishing the story!
The purpose of the gentle reminder is to get us to stop obsessing over getting everything right the first time. Because, after all, that IS the purpose of re-writing. The purpose of the first draft should be only to get the story out there. I have a Stephen King quote on the homepage of this very site that says that "Writing is at its best - always, always, always - when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer."
What this means to me, is that you are seeing -- no, living -- the story inside your mind, and the writing is nothing more than you taking dictation. This is not the time to worry about whether -- just this one time -- it's okay to use an adverb, or whether you used "there" when you should have used "their," or "they're." Just get the damn story down, and worry about the details later.
This is as much for me as it is for anyone reading this. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. Particularly when I've read the work of some fine writer, whose words seem to flow from some divine fount of inspiration, especially when compared to the clunky throwaways that seem to slip so easily past my watchful guard. I want my words to inspire the same level of belief, if not awe, as theirs have inspired in me. But I have to remind myself that even the best writers rarely get it all right the first time. They write, and they rewrite, and they rewrite again, until their baby shines!
The struggle is real, folks. There's no denying it, and, perhaps fortunately, there's no changing it. The first order of business is to get the story down. If you don't finish it, your work won't see the light of day, no matter how wonderful your writing is.
The difference between most people and published writers? Published writers got the job done.
Now, go and do thou likewise. Until next time...