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Learning a Lesson By Listening to Tim Weaver Talk About How He Writes

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.

Tim Weaver
Tim Weaver

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.

Who knows?

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.

Poets Work Really, Super Hard

Did you know it can take years to write a poem? That’s what poet Timmy Straw told The Paris Review.

Person welding while wearing a welding mask.
Photo by Aman Jakhar on Unsplash

For example, Straw said he wrote the first draft of his “The Thomas Salto” poem in 2016. He then spent six years working on the poem, which went through “probably fifteen-plus inadequate iterations” before Straw had “something I can live with.”

It’s hard to imagine working on any piece of writing for six years, especially a poem. Because, you know, poems tend to be short. 

So how does a poet spend years working on one little poem?

Let’s look at how Maggie Smith edited one of her poems. Smith uses her newsletter to show her work occasionally, and she shared her annotations for her poem, “How Dark the Beginning.”

The piece contains 17 lines, and Smith marked up nearly every single one. 

Regarding one line, Smith annotated, “This line has its own integrity and meaning before we get to the rest of the sentence.” And in other places, she noted how certain words sounded when read (“’B’ alliteration long ‘A’ assonance across lines”).

I don’t even know what any of that means.

To edit “How Dark the Beginning,” Smith said she repeatedly read the poem aloud to herself. 

“I revised word choices to play up assonance or slant rhyme (‘dragging its shadow’ capitalizes on the short A assonance, while the verbs ‘hauling’ or ‘pulling’ wouldn’t do that).”

Maggie Smith

It’s an incredible breakdown of how one poet revised one poem. And it’s a reminder that poets, who undoubtedly dress in all black and wear berets, work ridiculously hard.