Something was haunting me. It was annoying and big and ugly, this haunt. It followed me. Everywhere. Sometimes I couldn't think straight. Sometimes it made me anxious, moody, depressed. Sometimes it kept me up at night, which isn't good for a mom of two kids under the age of two. This was the turning point. Something needed to change.
Okay, so this haunt wasn't a ghost, vampire, fae or anything of that sort. It was a truth, about myself. Something that I'd known for a long time and just recently admitted to myself is a problem. If I was to move forward with my writing I had some changes to make. So here it goes: the awful truth that haunted me is this… (deep breath) I am a re-writer. By that, I mean that I rewrite as I'm writing my manuscript. Not good.
This is something that plagues many writers out there. You sit down at your computer, fully intent on being productive and getting a good chunk of your novel typed out, (if you haven't already gone back to read what you'd written the night before and start editing that!) But after just a page or two or five of typing you just have to go back and make it all perfect. Hey, I love editing too. It's my favorite part about writing, making all my sentences flow just right, creating beautiful prose out of puke words, but guys, we've seriously got to stop this.
This is how it usually goes for me: I'll type out a page or two then go back and edit those before moving on or (and this is even worse in my opinion) I'll have yet another great idea for my novel and go searching for the spot I need to insert the idea and add it in. But, as usual, that small idea changes the story line, a characters personality, or something else of vital importance. Then I realize that other elements in my story don't quite fit anymore because of that one change, so I go back and read through every word I've typed up to that point to make sure that nothing else has been affected by it.
This is a monumental waste of time, time that could be spent, uh, writing. Make these changes all the time, and what you end up with is a good beginning that's constantly being rewritten and restructured, but nothing more. That is as far as you get. You're stuck in rewrite land, the writer's equivalent of the Twilight Zone. Never moving forward.
If this is you, I'm sure you're just as annoyed about it as I am. So hey, I want to help you out. I've made some adjustments over the past few months and some have worked really well for me, others not so much; but I'll list them anyways because they might work for you. We all work differently, after all.
1. Use Note Cards to Outline
After trying several outlining methods, I realized that the format of my outline had a lot to do with my inability to stop rewriting. First, I used the good old three ringed spiral notebook, but quickly found that all the erasing, what with me switching stuff around and changing details on a daily basis, was annoying and halted the creative flow. It was too messy, too distracting. Plus if I wanted to add elements to my outline, I usually ended up with little to no room to do so after writing one scene directly after another. Of course, I later found that having no room to change my outline was definitely a good thing! Fail.
Thus, Scrivener came into my life and I was all gung-ho about it, but again, outlining in Scrivener didn't work for me. The virtual note cards are all right there in rows in front of your face just waiting to be switched around. For the record, Scrivener is awesome. I use it to write my novel and store all of my research there so that it's all in one place. Super convenient. I just don't use it to outline. Give it a try though. You might love it!
This was my big epiphany and why I finally switched to using paper note cards: I needed a method that allowed me to be more focused. I see a squirrel run by my sliding glass door and I'm off in la la land for the next half hour contemplating life and how amazing our planet is which then reminds me of an inspiring lecture I once heard in college which then leads to… who knows what! If I sat in a white room with just a chair, a desk and a computer (with no internet) there would still be something about that space that would steal my focus. You get the point. Note cards provided a solution to this. I was able to shove my cork board (with all of my note cards attached) out of sight so I could focus on just one note card (one scene) at a time. It still allowed me to switch scenes around or add elements if I needed to. I would just pin a second note card beneath the first one in that scene if I needed more room to write. Perfect!
2. Write It Out
After realizing that it was a focus issue, I tried hand writing my story. I got really excited about this idea. Bought a pretty notebook and wrote the “subject” on the cover and everything, like a silly middle grade student. I went for this idea counting on the fact that it was hard to go back and rewrite. An added bonus - it removed my biggest distraction: the internet. I can't tell you how many times I've sat down to start on my novel, but ended up mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest or browsing the web instead. How did I get from Boston Fern to Troll fetish? Unless you're doing research for your book, just turn it off. When it's time to write, JUST write.
This method is used by famous authors as well, which is reassuring. Jonathan Dee said, “The first draft of anything, I write longhand. One of the nice things about that is that it makes you keep going. If you write a bad sentence on the computer, then it's very tempting to go back and fidget with it and spend another 20 minutes trying to make it a good sentence.” Although I did eventually revert back to typing my novel in Scrivener, this method was very helpful in keeping me on track. Scrivener's just too darn convenient. I swear I'm not being payed to promote them. I'm actually thinking about going back to longhand!
3. Mind Control!
Regardless of the reasons why you constantly rewrite, what it really comes down to is this: you need to make yourself keep writing. This takes practice and discipline. Basically, what you need to do is mentally train yourself to keep going forward and to not go back or look too far ahead in your outline. JUST. KEEP. WRITING. Have a mantra that you tell yourself every time you have that need to go somewhere else in your story. I just yell “SHUT UP” (in my head of course) to that annoying side of me that is always wanting to change stuff. Well, maybe if so and so had this quirk he would be more likely to… SHUT UP! Works every time.
Choose some adjustments that you feel would work well for who you are, but it's okay if you're unsure about what to try out. Trial and error. I didn't have a clue and tried just about everything before finding what worked for me. Note cards and SHUT UP.
You can do this. You can stop rewriting. It may take some time to find what adjustments work and they will take some getting used to. Trial and error. Practice and discipline. Just get your first draft out. Don't worry about making it sound pretty. Just let it go. Save it for the second draft. Write. Write. Write! That's all there is to it. John Defresne said, “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “The first draft of anything is shit.” Oh, Ernest Hemingway, you just say it like it is. I like that.