Before you tar and feather me and run me out of town on a rail for saying it’s okay to edit as you write, hear me out.
I recently went through the longest case of writer’s block, or as I call it “page fright,” that I have ever experienced. I barely wrote a word for 7 months.
Granted, I was trying my hardest to plot The Mists of Bellicent Bay, so I wasn’t totally inactive. I was reading books on writing, story structure, and all that dry stuff that while important, doesn’t fire me up creatively. I downloaded templates and to-do lists. I created outlines and diagrams galore.
While some of those techniques helped me organize my thoughts, I was still utterly incapable of sitting down and actually writing!
Well, I’m thrilled to say I’m out of that desert and have found my oasis of words once again. I am back in my heart after living 7 months in my head. And today I had an epiphany about this entire experience…
I was doing exactly what I tell you, my wonderful reader, NOT to do!
I was attempting to mold my creative process into something that is not my own. I was approaching my book the way others say it should be done. (I think it’s important to be open-minded and try new techniques to improve our writing, and as I mentioned, some did help.) But my God, I was sitting there staring at an outline I couldn’t unravel for 7 damn months!
Because I don’t outline. I never have. It doesn’t work for me. I write and the story reveals itself to me as I go.
Yesterday, after I finished writing a very satisfactory chunk of words I began to re-read and edit. I stopped myself because everyone says this is a mistake. Don’t edit and write. I even advised against it because I felt this habit was part of the reason it took me so long to write Dharma and Desire. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to make that mistake again with Mists of Bellicent Bay!
Another epiphany. I like to write and edit. Not to the point of perfection mind you, but I simply can’t stand having a bunch of slop on the page. So I edit a bit as I go. That’s how I do it. It’s part of my process. So what? Who’s to say it’s wrong?
William Styron, acclaimed author of Sophie’s Choice said:
I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand. I can’t turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph—each sentence, even—as I go along.
(Thankfully, I’m not that neurotic. I finish a few paragraphs before I start to pick at them.)
7 months. I can’t believe I spent so much time being untrue to my own process. Oh well, another lesson learned.
Write from your heart instead of your head and you can’t go wrong. And trust me, I’m saying this just as much for myself as for you.