I’ve been working steadily on polishing my WIP Shade for probably two years now, with breaks in between for other projects. First it was having a friend who edits professionally go through it with me and changing it as I learned. Then it was doing a major rewrite after a conference. And then again with Pitch Wars.
I got to the point where I felt pretty confident about editing—as far as process goes. But that’s when I started to notice a shift in writing. When it came to starting brand new—and I’m talking a project you’re not sprucing up, I mean 100% scratch—it was hard to switch over from editing mode. Part of me felt like I had to edit as I went along. And I’m not discounting that, but I do think it can hinder creativity.
If you’ve been in this game long enough, you’ve been through different writing phases. For me I see these stages as plotting, creating, and editing. There are complexities within those stages, but I think it’s sufficient enough to cover the areas of writing with these phases. You can be in all three at one time, but my philosophy is you’ll likely be in one of them more than another at different times while you create story.
And these stages don’t necessarily occur in that order. You might be creating, then decide it’s time for some plotting, and then go on to editing. There’s no wrong or right way when it comes to process, except to say do it right for you.
This is the stage where ideas are knocking down your door. Maybe you can’t even sleep at night because ideas are bothering you so much. Scenes are vivid in your mind. You might take to outlining, if you’re a plotter like me. You may also do some research to help the plotting along in your mind. Perhaps you gather photographs or other things that remind you of the story bouncing around in your head.
Often I have to outline just so I can get some peace. It seems like during this stage it’s hard to stay focused on conversations. Sometimes books, too, are difficult to read because the ideas are flowing.
The upside is you’re on top of the world. You can’t stop creating and you hope you can somehow capture all of that wondrous creativity before you. For me, it’s like that scene in Tangled where they’re surrounded by sky lanterns. How can you possible focus on anything else when you’re surrounded by all of that?
Life is good and you’ve got creativity flowing.
However, the downside is you may grow so comfortable plotting for your story you don’t actual do any creating. Or maybe you write a little and decide, nope, needs more plotting. You know how to do the plotting.
But the story needs to come out. Yesterday I read a post from Kristen Lamb’s blog about writing when you’re tired. But I took it to also mean writing when conditions aren’t ideal. Take this quote for example:
Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.
Sometimes we don’t write because it won’t be “perfect.” There’s a time and a place for plotting. But don’t linger there too long.
This is where the writing happens. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with the scenes tumbling out of my brain. I’ve also had times where I had to pause, do a little bit of plotting, and then get right back into creating. But as the quote above says, it’s important to let that creating happen when it does.
Let the weak words work as place holders for now, especially in a first draft. It’s okay if they could see and could feel and if you about in there was/were, etc. etc. etc. Just keep on writing and allow yourself to flow with pure creativity. A lot of people see no value in NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The idea, for those that don’t know, is you write a novel in a month. Pretty fast, but for a first draft I say why not? The first draft will ALWAYS need editing. Always. Might as well get something rough out to start working on.
Turn off that inner critic and just write. Get your story out. You may discover you want to take it in a different direction, or the story just may take you in a different direction. If you’re doing a major rewrite, since you’ve gotten to know your characters so well, why not let them take the lead?
While doing a rewrite of my WIP Shade, I was rewriting a scene between the MC and his girl. They were doing something mundane, repairs, but were having a conversation and suddenly this new bit of information tumbled out of her mouth that I wasn’t expecting. It will likely take future books in a completely different direction because I allowed her to tell me how her world worked. So I accomplished some more world-building as well as future plot directions.
I’m telling you, it’s amazing what your mind will give you when you let your subconscious have a little more control.
This is the stage I’ve been in the most lately. So this is the one I’ve become most familiar with and sometimes staring at a blank Word doc can be a little daunting. I noticed when I started writing a few paragraphs of a novella I tried editing as I went. I wanted it to be as polished as my WIP. But this is the first draft. It’s going to take way too long if I do it that way.
I also noticed it definitely hinders my creativity. It’s weird to think sometimes you just need things to suck at first. That’s the only way the subconscious comes out to play it seems. I decided to put the novella on pause until I’m finished with this final (because they’re never really final) edit on Shade, and then I’m just going to write it with creativity on full throttle.
But back to editing. I’ve written a whole series on the best way to get this done, and I recommend you check it out. It’s a compilation of all the advice I’ve ever been given coupled with my own personal experiences in editing. The editing process can be quite fulfilling once you understand it.
A writer in the editing process should have only one goal: best story ever. That means ego can be a casualty. In fact, count on your ego getting hurt time and time again. And be okay with it. Remember your goal. Find places where one word can take the place of three. Do a lot of reading during this time too. Often when I’m editing I’ll read books like Story or Writing the Breakout Novel because they inspire me on how to fix weak scenes, boring descriptions, etc.
Most importantly, gather feedback during this stage. We are way too close to our stories to notice all its imperfections. Another pair of eyes is always helpful. In fact, I’ve just received feedback from friends recently on the first chapter of Shade. Even with all the drafts I’ve been through, there are still things I’ve missed that need fixing. Sometimes the fixes will be major, sometimes minor. But if your goal truly is best story ever then you won’t mind.
EMBRACE THE STAGE YOU’RE IN
Whatever stage you’re currently in, love it. Love every minute of it. You’re creating worlds and people and ideas in unique ways. That’s awesome! Appreciate that you’re actually doing it. Being a writer can be the greatest thing in the world, and I don’t mean the fame or fortune. Many of you know exactly what I mean. For those that don’t, keep on writing. The feeling will come. Obviously most of us would like to be able to write for a living, but when you’ve felt the elation of story creating, you’d keep writing even if you never saw a dime. That’s the passion you should have, because then you’ll have a story people will want to read.
So what writing stage are you in? Which stage is your favorite? Have you experienced that story creating elation? What would you say to writers who have a hard time embracing all the stages? What would you add as far as stages go? Let us know below.
25 thoughts on “The Writing Game”
I find the same thing! In November when I had to go from full-on editing mode back to writing a first draft for NaNoWriMo, I nearly had a panic attack. It had been too long! I couldn’t do it! But I could, and I did, and it was great- once I remembered to tell my inner editor to shove off again. 🙂
Also… PUSHEEN! ❤
I know, I just stumbled onto Pusheen! So cuuuute! Hehehe, I love the idea of telling the inner editor to shove off. So true.
Pusheen is the chubby, fuzzy BOMB.
Yep, I tell her and her evil crony Perfectionism to bugger right off during first draft time. I don’t care where they go, I don’t care whether they send a postcard. They get their crack at the writing later. 🙂
I’m in the editing stage and taking breaks to do a little plotting when I need to walk away. I can’t really say I have a favorite stage. I love feeling a new idea bubble to the surface, putting it into story format, and reading it again to make sure it works. I think one should strive to take enjoyment from each stage because it will make the project move smoother.
It’s interesting that you mention ‘editing’ while starting something from scratch. I’ve been noticing that after I edited 3 books in a row, I did real-time editing on the 4th book. It wasn’t anything intrusive, but it was a few moments of realizing I did something ‘wrong’ and going back to fix it. I’ve heard other authors so that it’s part of locking in a personal style.
I agree, it all comes down to personal style. That’s why I like to hear how other writers get it done. Sometimes I try their ways out to see if it works better or take little bits of what they do to improve on my own. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
You’re welcome. I do the same thing, but I try more to evolve my own style. I’m always scared that if I try someone else’s entire style that I’ll adopt it as my own and lose some of what makes me unique.
Yes! Stages have no order and they can happen in odd ways. They all gel into each other in this weird way that reminds of of Bugs never turning left at Albuquerque.
PS- Pusheen reminds me of Sushi Cat. Ever play it?
Huh uh. Now I’m going to have to google Sushi Cat. 🙂
I have an addiction to playing Armor Games (http://armorgames.com/). I learned of the site due to Felicia Day, when she was playing Kingdom Rush.
You’ve done it again! 🙂
Oh, why thank you!
Nice article Jae! I always seem to be stuck on plotting or throwing my hands up and diving into the writing only to realize I hate it because I don’t feel like I plotted enough to make the thing coherent.
Ahh, the vicious cycle. 🙂
Meh, coherent shmoherent. When is a first draft ever coherent anyway? 😉
I found even with my blog it helps to create content at least a week in advance and then I can go back and edit the content to be better worded or more timely.
I also find it hard to get out of editing mode and be creative. But it is always fun if I can let go of the wrongness of the wording and just enjoy the scene playing out.
It’s true. We should just be essentially taking notes on the scene, then go back later and make necessary adjustments. But I’m with you, hard to quiet the editor inside.
I hate the editing phase of writing for me..it’s my least favorite bit and I think I am not good at it..Aidan is much better at it!
Lol! I used to hate it with a passion, but once I started working with good critique partners and especially when I saw how much stronger my writing became because of it, I’ve embraced it. You’ll get there.
Excellent advice, Jae. The ending is the best of all – embrace all the stages. I’m working on a WIP now which first involved going back and reading a draft I created five years ago. It was little scary opening up the ms after so many years, but I embraced the task, and I still call it writing. I’m happy to report that I still like the premise of the novel and the characters. So now I embrace turning it all into a novel although much of the work from here on will be cutting and pasting and adding and deleting. It’s still the creative process. Thanks for post.
I agree with you completely. I have an older project I intend to do a similar thing with someday in the future. And I would still call it writing too. It’s going to take those skills to turn it into something fabulous. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always.
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I try to do a first draft without going back and editing, and it just doesn’t happen. I find myself hitting a wall, and having to go back a few paragraphs or pages and find a different direction to plot the story.
Are you a pantser then? Maybe it doesn’t work as well for majority pantsers? I’m a plotter. I’m all about getting it out and yesterday, if that makes sense. May not work for everyone, but never hurts to try new strategies every now and again.
Great post Jae. I’ve been in the editing phase of my WIP and still have a long way to go. I hope after I get through editing this current draft, it will be ready to share for feedback. I like that I’m discovering better ways of getting across what I want in each scene – I don’t like that I have so many more improvements to make. This post is a nice reminder that its all part of the process and I should enjoy the moments. Hopefully at some point I’ll have a story I can be proud of and I can look back and see how much better it is because of the time (blood, sweet, tears … oops, sorry, getting dramatic …) I put into it. 🙂
I’m in a mixture of stages – editing one WIP and creating another, with breaks to try and plot along the way. Plus I have this idea for a completely new story I’ve been tossing around in my head…I agree that it can be hard to transition from one stage to another, so I usually try to just finish one thing at a time. This is a bit of an experiment to see if I can do editing and creating at once…so far it’s mostly working. 🙂