A little wiser tomorrow
Posted by Amos M. Carpenter
I’ve made very little progress writing this week, at least in terms of writing new stuff. However, I’ve recently been busy reading what I’ve written, mainly on the train to and from work, and have been making so many notes of little things I need to change that it took me most of my creative day this week to apply all these improvements to my manuscript. Guess that leaves this weekend to finally make some progress as far as the word-count is concerned.
While reading, I’ve also made notes about ideas I’ve had concerning the ending, but don’t like getting ahead of myself and skipping large sections – I always find I have to edit too much when I do that.1
Many writers say you should write your complete first draft before you go back to edit. The perfectionist in me won’t always let me do that.
Writing away when I’m “in the zone” is great and gets me closer to completing my manuscript much faster than the “write a bit, edit a bit” approach. Occasionally, though, I need to take a step back to see the bigger picture, re-read my work in light of that bigger picture, and adjust what I’ve written accordingly. It stops me from going off on a tangent that’s interesting, but not all that relevant to the story I want to tell, gets me back on track, and lets me insert those all-important little details in the right places, details that will only make sense to the reader later when the right threads are woven together.2
Only very recently have I bothered to think about why it is that certain things work for me while others do not. I suppose I have the fact that I’ve started this blog to thank for making me think about this at all; looking for blog-worthy topics means I have to think about what I do and why I do it as well as doing it.
1 Why does skipping large sections not work well for me?
2 Why does frequent editing work for me when most others advise against it?
Thinking about these questions, I can’t help but think how I sometimes edit my own writing and ask myself, “What were you thinking when you wrote that?” This made me realise that I always look back on my “old self”, if you will (be that the self that started writing many years ago or the more recent self that just wrote the most recent chapter), with an ever-so-slight air of superiority. Why? I think it’s because part of me realises that, right now, I’m ever-so-slighly wiser than I was yesterday, or a week ago, or a year ago. I could be deluding myself, of course, but doesn’t it seem logical that I improve as I write more, read more, think more? I’m certainly not yet at an age where I decline mentally, so I’m at least as wise, or smart, as I ever was… probably more so. Well, slightly.
Once I accept that reasoning, the (slightly uncomfortable) truth is that tomorrow, I’ll be another little bit wiser than I am today.
1 That’s why, if I skip a section now, I’ll have trouble connecting smoothly to it tomorrow – because I’ll know more details about how my story gets there once it does get there. If I have what seems like a great idea about what happens later, notes or fragments should suffice for now. I can edit them in later. Or not, if the “future-me” doesn’t think it’ll work.
2 That’s why I can edit my writing now, but later, I’ll have another idea about how to make a miniscule improvement, how to phrase something less awkwardly, how to make dialogue seem more natural.
Hmm. Maybe that means the writers who say “edit later” are correct after all. I’ll have to think about that one….
Whom do you trust more, the “now-you”, or the “future-you”?