Novel In Progress: 2) Vomiting It Up

2 Vomiting It Up

I don’t know who said it but they compared the writing of your first draft to vomiting. Get it all out in one piece and don’t worry about whether it’s good. This is the single most important thing that made it possible for me to finish a novel. My rules for this?

  • Don’t reread your work any more than necessary
  • Don’t fix things
  • Don’t start over
  • Don’t get critical (this works two ways: I’m great or I suck, often both in the same day)
  • Just keep going forward

The power of this was only apparent when I reached the end of my book and, following Stephen King’s advice, set it aside for a month. Except I only lasted two weeks before I sat down and read the entire thing from beginning to end for the first time. My reaction was an intense feeling of relief because, though it was very messy (it is vomit, after all), it held together as a story. Quite a wonderful experience, though short-lived!
Others take different approaches. Hemingway recommended reading the entire work every day before writing until it became cumbersome, then change to reading a few previous chapters. This doesn’t work for me but I can’t argue with his results. But he did not recommend constant polishing of your earlier efforts
The fact is that editing before finishing makes no sense. You don’t know the whole story. Why did those two characters jump into bed with each other when you didn’t expect it? You’re probably going to find out but it might not be for another 50 pages. If you edit that scene out it could screw you over later.
The nice thing about the 23 words a day guy is that he broke out when he was faced with an environment where all he could do was write and where he was probably inwardly competing with the other writing yahoos around him. In his 42 days of retreat he averaged 714 words a day and became a writer in the process. A good writer? Who cares?
Are you a good writer? You cannot determine that until you finish something, something significant by your standards. And you can’t finish something if you’re constantly second guessing yourself by going back and tweaking things. It’s as simple as that. Vomit it out, then clean it up.

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