Write First, Make It Good Later

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Lately, I have heard a number of people saying that they are trying to get started on their book. They have done all the research, attended workshops, read writing books and how-tos, and basically just focused on their craft.

But, now, they are stuck. They can’t actually write.

Obviously, the goal here is to get those words down on the page. So what’s going wrong?

The problem is that they are trying to write well.

What do I mean? Well, if you are anything like me, your brain is usually working a few sentences or scenes ahead from what you are actually writing. So, while I am writing sentence one, my brain is already on sentence four. This works out well, because it means that as long as I stay focused, I write quickly. (Whether I do always stay focused is an issue for another time…)

But, if I am writing sentence one, and I don’t like it, I move on. I just keep writing. Maybe sometimes I’ll make a note to change it later, but usually I assume that Future Aislinn will have the same issue with the line that Present Aislinn does. (Aka it’s Future Aislinn’s problem).

If I don’t do this, if I get caught up in crafting a perfect sentence/scene/character/whatever, then my brain screeches to a halt. It will no longer be on sentence four, or scene four. It will be at sentence one. And that will then just slow everything to a stop.

If I am too concerned with creating a perfect sentence or perfect scene, I never get anything done. Because nothing is perfect the first time out. So if you go over and over something a million times on the first try, you lose all your momentum and just get stuck.

My motto for this situation is this: give yourself permission to be crap.

Yes, that scene may not be all it could be on the first try, but that’s fine. Until you see how it fits into the story as a whole, you probably won’t see its full potential anyway.

Maybe that piece of dialogue doesn’t convey all the nuance you want it to. But it can be fixed later.

Maybe the character’s arc is not as strong as you want it to be; their Goal/Motivation/Conflict is not up to scratch, or the mask vs essence is not where you want it to be. Whatever writing theory you are using at the time, just know this: you don’t have to get it right the first time.

Seriously, editing is a giant pain in the arse, but it is rather wonderful once you’ve turned your first draft into a good book.

Once you get those words on the page, then you can make them good. Don’t expect perfection on the first try.

And the good news is, that doing this will be your practice. The more you write and edit, the more your first tries are going to be good, and the less you’ll have to edit in your later manuscripts. But you won’t improve until you write, and write a lot.

So, remember two things: getting the words down on the page is the goal, and give yourself permission to be crap.

7 thoughts on “Write First, Make It Good Later

  1. Hi, I’ve reblogged this, it’s great advice I’ve heard before and important for all new(ish) writers. I’ve also heard that you should expect the first draft to at least 20% longer than the final draft as you tighten up what you initially wrote.

    • Thanks for the reblog! While in most cases I agree with you, my final manuscripts tend to be about 10% longer than my first drafts! I write short, and end up having to add scenes and lines all over the place. So even as I tighten things, it still ends up longer. But I agree that my way is a lot rarer than needing to cut things back.

      • I’ve been like that before, I used to add lots when rewriting and editing because I was expanding being more description, but I’ve recently changed my writing style so it’s sharper and has less padding, which has reduced the size of the first draft for the novel I’m releasing soon by quite a bit.
        I don’t think it matters if you add or take away, so long as when you’re done you’re satisfied you’ve made your work the best it can be.

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