Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taming the Internal Editor

As I struggle to bring Windrider into being, whilst eagerly awaiting the publication of Firedancer (September 1st! Less than a week!) I find myself fighting the oldest trap of all--endless revision. One of the hardest things about slogging through writing a new novel is the constant urge to keep circling back to "fix" previous scenes, to make everything perfect before gritting your teeth and resuming the tough job of pulling words out of nothing. The constant nagging of the muse, like the monotone whining of a small child demanding attention, is so damned effective that the desire to give in is well nigh overpowering. And seductive. And so, so much easier than facing the blank page every day.

Don't go there.

Constant fiddling is death to forward progress. Some writers become so obsessed with perfection they never finish anything. Ergo, these people are not people you've ever heard of. They are not published. They are not really even writers, because writers finish things. They tell the story--the whole story. All of it, beginning, middle, and end. In other words, they keep writing, suppressing all the whining of the Muse to go fix that and that and oooh, just that one little thing, pleeeease??

No.

For those of you caught in this quicksand, here are a few quick tips for getting the upper hand on revisionitis:
  1. Note down the things you want to change as they occur to you. This relieves the anxiety to remember them, and ensures you capture the idea while it's hot. Do NOT make a separate file, which drags you away into the seductive trap of expanding on your notes, ignoring the draft. Put those notes on the first page of the manuscript, right in front of the title. You cannot fail to see them when you start back through on the revision, but they are well away from where you're working. Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Pretend you made the changes earlier on, and continue writing new material as if it were grounded in the envisioned rewrite. Go ahead and give your character that funny accent halfway through, or add a quirk to a sidekick as it occurs to you, or shift your capital city from the mountains to the seaside because it works for the plot. Smoothing out the inconsistencies is a task of revision, not drafting. Note it, save it, work on it later.
  3. Give in gloriously to the urge to write stuff out of order. If that scene is burning in your head, write it! Append it to the end of the draft if the plot has not advanced that far yet, and feel the wonderful boost when you do battle your way up to it and discover 5 or 50 finished pages awaiting you. Or plug it into the previous material and utterly resist the urge to sand away around the edges to make it fit seamlessly. It. Will. Be. There. Revision after draft, remember?
  4. Read only the previous five pages of the manuscript when you sit down to work (or everything you wrote yesterday, if you absolutely must). Constantly rereading the previous stuff is just an excuse for not writing new stuff. Refresh your memory and start typing, bucko. It's the only way to finish.
  5. Stop each day with the next sentence in your head. This is a natural lead-in to the next day's writing, and encourages forward progress. If you write until the words dry up every day, it is much harder to jump start the story. Leave the Muse champing at the bit to get going again, and you will remain eager to write rather than revise.
Like probably every other writer in the known universe, I keep a notebook beside the bed, and attempt to not spend all night writing the book in my head. And when I'm stuck, and the words won't come, I write anyway, because word processors are so wonderful with their cut/paste and delete functions. No actual trees die while I put drivel onto the screen attempting to blow up the figurative log jam. And from that drivel often comes the foundation for real scenes and powerful insights that revive the story and get me excited to write it again.

All novels stick in the middle, just about, as the first enthusiasm wears off and the writing becomes work instead of inspired pleasure. It's just the way it is. The only way to finish is to write new material, every time you sit down to work on the book. So turn off your internal editor and just get on with it. Hopefully these few tips will help, or you'll develop your own system of bribery and blackmail to get yours under control. Chocolate....yeah. Lead me to it!


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