Updated: Sep 11
What do we want?
How do we want to edit?
As we go!
Wait. No, no we don’t.
Let’s be honest. How many of us had to learn not to reread and rewrite chapter one until it was so polished that we hated the story and/or couldn’t get past it and/or couldn‘t finish the damn story? (**Raises hand**)
And if we’re being honest, here’s another personal nugget. Of all of the projects I’ve ever completed, my favorite unedited piece came out a NaNoWriMo. Why? Because my fingers said what my heart needed to say without my editing brain getting in the way. 50k words in 30 days meant there was no time to stop and think. I finished a project without rereading it a hundred times through and wasn’t sick of it by the time I needed to go back and actually do the edits… and, well, that was a nice surprise.
It’s hard to “just write,” because in the end, we don’t want to see shit on paper. But, I’m going to let you in a something I’ve learned over the years, and it’s a two-fer. One: the better surprise comes with getting to the end of the project and being pleasantly surprised by what you’ve created, and two: super-polished shit is the WAY worse letdown. So, how do you silence the inner first-pass editor and let the words flow? Here are a few quick tips.
1. Hand-write the first draft.
Ooooh, it hurts to think about. But, it allows for two main things: thinking through the sentences, the wording, but also, handwriting doesn’t have a convenient backspace button. Rewrites take literally that, and you might be thinking twice about revising big swatches of text rather than moving forward. Cool bonus? I'm pretty sure Chuck Palahniuk does it.
2. Try a distraction-free writing tool.
There are several of these on the market. We've reviewed the AlphaSmart Neo 2 here, and we love it for its low price point (since it's only available secondhand as it's no longer manufactured) and powerful functionality. At the pricier end of the market, Freewrite makes their own distraction-free writing tool that functions like a bluetooth-enabled word processor. There's also the old standby, the ever-functional typewriter, which allows for the much of the same thought-processing as handwriting a draft.
3. Write on a schedule.
Word counts don’t cut the mustard for this writer, so if you’re like me, try adhering to a time schedule versus a number schedule. The time slots don't have to be huge. Ten minutes a day adds up to big progress over... uh, time. Can't keep yourself accountable? Join up with a writing partner and schedule writing sprints over Zoom meetings or Google hangouts.
4. Join or form a writing group for forward accountability.
Or, just take it all the way and hook up with a local writing group. No groups local to your area? Here are some guidelines to get you started on forming your own.
5. Try a competition like NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo.
Chase a wild goal in a competition-like setting where you don't have any time to look back. Prep ahead of time (or don't), and write like the wind, Bullseye. Yes, since we're plugging away at our own shameless self-promotion, we have tips for that here, here and here.
I can only write from experience. I’m not assuming you write first drafts like I do. Maybe your first pass and/or self-editing as-you-go experiences are quite different than mine. In that case, you go, you writing stud. All that matters in the end is that the work gets done, because the world needs your story, right? One more project checked off the list is one step closer to becoming the full-time creative.
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