Get Your Story Written, Then Think Revision

Not long ago, I was helping our youngest daughter with a writing assignment about medieval knights, and she told me she couldn’t think of an adjective to modify a certain noun. She offered a few ideas and then just sat there, stuck. I could only say to her what I encourage novelists with: “Just write what comes to mind and get it down on paper. You can always go back and revise it when you are done.”

So I figured I’d run with that notion and offer a few thoughts to those of you who are working on novels, but finding yourselves constantly wanting to self-edit during the writing process. On the whole, most novelists will tell you that self-editing during composition is a self-defeating endeavor that eventually brings writers to a halting screech—and often sends them in the direction of the kitchen for their favorite comfort food.

Why should you just write your story from start to finish without worrying about fixing this, that, and the other? Mainly, it’s because you want the passion and inspiration for your story to find its way out of your heart and imagination and onto the written page with little to no interruption of your creative flow. The STORY is the key; it’s why you’re dedicating a certain amount of your time and energy each day (hopefully) to an endeavor that might seem pointless to others who don’t hear the muse that writers do.

Your primary goal, then, is to get the story out of your creative center by transcribing what you see in your imagination as the tale unfolds there. Your goal is not to make sure that you used the right adjective here or the right character name there, or that you got point of view right or avoided using adverbs or cleaned up all your typos. That’s what subsequent drafts are for. For your first draft, just concentrate on getting the story onto the page. After that, leave it alone for a month or two while you work on something else, then go back to it and do a self-review to see what you’d like to revise (a favorite tip: read your story aloud to yourself and highlight anything you might want to revise).

This practice does assume that you are not going to allow anyone else to see your story throughout the writing of the first draft, for two main reasons. First, it helps keep the fire within you stoked because the story is yours and yours alone as you are discovering it. Second, it keeps you focused on telling the story the way you see it rather than having two or three friends and/or family members throw in their two cents about every scene or ask you questions about details. Once you have a draft finished, and maybe even a second draft, then you can (and should) allow some trusted reviewers to offer constructive comments, including family, friends, and a professional editor.

It’s a simple concept, I know, but the first job of a novelist is to tell stories. The self-editing and rewriting will come soon enough, so just write the story—and then take a moment to celebrate with those closest to you, because penning a novel takes a lot of work, and not too many people do it, even a lot of folks who consider themselves writers. Writing novels isn’t quite the glamorous job some people think it is. It can surely be fun, exciting, and invigorating, but it is still work. So just write it!