Writers love the first draft stage. It’s a time where they get to roam freely and explore their creative side (sort of mimicking the way they’re sat in their underwear in the real world doing just that,) for hours and hours without any negative feelings. They get to create new worlds, and explore those new worlds; they get to create new characters, and become those new characters. It’s just one huge journey of self-fulfilling entertainment.
The rewriting phase, however, isn’t attacked with the same ferocious passion.
Rewriting is kind of like that loner at school who always got chosen last in sports – no one wants to pick him, but someone has to eventually. Writers dread rewriting because more often than not, it makes them realise just how much work they still have to do. There’s nothing worse than being totally sure of your ability, only to realise you’re probably going to have to change every single sentence in your book – that is what rewriting does.
So, it’s sort of understandable that writers want to combine the two, right? Maybe that’s a good idea. Wrong. It is not a good idea. Ever.
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It’s Bad For Your Mental Stabiliy
As if there weren’t already enough potential mental breakdowns in writing a book… Talk about a combustion waiting to happen. If the heart attack doesn’t get you first, that is.
The first draft is there as a more in-depth plot outline. It’s the mould of your story, the furthest reaching of the outer walls of its shell, and it’s there for you to build on and improve. If you start editing before you have a fully finished draft, then what on earth are you building on?
You can’t build a house without a foundation. The same applies to writing a book.
Besides, your edits would be rendered useless anyway, because all you’d be doing would be changing the shape of a few sentences here and there, and expanding on a few loose bits of plot. The writing would still be of the same quality, which is bad, because that means it would be unfinished first draft quality. That’s one notch down from finished first draft quality, by the way.
The story needs time to simmer before you rewrite it. Why do you think you hate your writing when you come back to it three months down the line? You didn’t hate it as you were writing it, so why do you hate it this much now? Well, that’s because you wrote it and got it finished, and didn’t take a peep at it between now and then. It’s only now that you’re seeing your work in its truest form, from the most unbiased view you can possibly attain as a writer.
If you rewrite as you go, all your doing is changing the content, not the quality. And when rewriting, it’s the quality you should focus on most.
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Good Luck Getting the Story Finished
Unless you’re some form of superhuman who is unaffected by stress and self-hatred, then there’s no way you’re going to get your book finished if you try to write and edit at the same time.
There’s something not quite right about writing a chapter and editing it right after, and in actuality, that will only turn out to be counterproductive. Think about it. You wouldn’t row across a lake only to double back halfway to correct your rowing form, would you? No. You would just carry on rowing, ignoring the occasional slip of the oar, until you reached the other side.
That’s what first drafts are all about – getting to the other side. You’ll never get your first draft finished if you spend the rest of your life rewriting the first three chapters of it. And trust me, if you try to edit whilst you write, that’s most likely what you’ll end up doing.
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What To Do Instead
Rather than getting yourself tied up in an internal battle that’s never going to end well, just stick to the basics. Get your first draft written without allowing yourself to take even the slightest look at any of the earlier content you’ve written – that’s all it takes to set you off.
Once you finish the draft, set it aside and come back to it a few months down the line. Do whatever you need to to stay away from it. Start a new project, try some poetry, focus more on Instagram; heck, take up cycling. I don’t care what it is you do to get you there, just make sure you stay well clear of that first draft.
When the time is right, that’s when you can begin making the changes. After this amount of time, you’re more likely to be changing the quality of the work as opposed to just the content. That’s what will make a difference in all of this. That’s what will make your book the best it can possibly be.
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