Author Tim Weaver recently busted some oft-repeated writing advice on The Writer’s Routine.
“I always like to re-read and re-edit, if necessary, what I’ve written that day before I start the next day,” Weaver said.
Many creative writers subscribe and prescribe to the idea that you should get your first draft down before editing.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King said he doesn’t edit while writing.
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” King wrote.
And that’s the advice I followed when trying to write my first novel. I started it a few years ago. Back then, I had a regular job requiring me to be in the office, so I woke early, had coffee, read a poem or two, and then started writing. I didn’t edit or re-read a single thing I wrote.
After a few months, I had about 70,000 words down. I started feeling the book’s end coming. I could almost see it. Taste it.
But while writing one morning, something I wrote made me laugh. The problem was that I was writing a horror novel, not a comedy. This was a pivotal scene when the reader should be on the edge of their seat, hair on their arms on end, and yet I wrote something funny, not scary.
So, I paused writing and started re-reading my first draft. I wanted to know why I wrote something humorous instead of horror-y.
What I realized is that my novel’s first draft was a mess. There were storylines I’d dropped or added, characters’ names I changed, and entire chapters that didn’t make any sense.
Overwhelmed, I set the novel aside for a bit. I told myself I’d let a little time pass. Then I’d return and whip it into shape. But every time I tried to rework the story, doubt, stress, and confusion beset me. Then I lost interest in the story.
Today that first draft remains at 70,000 unfinished, sloppy words.
Your Writing Process Is the Right Writing Process
Listening to Tim Weaver on The Writer’s Routine, I realized I’d lost the forest for the trees.
I was so intent on following the advice I’d seen so many writers give to get my first draft down before editing that I lost sight of the main goal: To write stories. What does it matter if I follow a recommended process if that process doesn’t result in me finishing a story?
Weaver doesn’t wait until he’s written a first draft before editing it.
“I’m definitely not a vomit draft kind of guy,” he told The Writer’s Routine host Dan Simpson. “I’ve got a borderline slight obsession with making a chapter as good as it can possibly be before I move on.”
Writing my first novel, I churned out 70,000 words without re-reading or editing. Then I became overwhelmed when I realized the story needed reworking.
Maybe I would’ve finished the thing if I’d edited as I wrote instead of letting all those words pile up without knowing if they worked as a story.
Of course, there are many possibilities here. For example, whether I edited it as I wrote it or not, my story may be terrible. Or, perhaps if I’d edited as I wrote, I would’ve gotten bogged down and never finished the novel.
The point is that I was more committed to following what I believed was the “right” way to write instead of feeling free to choose my way to write. And that’s something Tim Weaver helped me realize.
The best writing process is the one that works for you, the one that enables you to write the best (and finished) story you can write.