Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

70. Writing an ugly draft vs editing as you write.

The people behind National Novel Writing Month would have a field day with this one.

There are a lot of arguments for both sides of this conflict, but mostly it comes down to personal preference. Most writers I know tend to edit as they write because silencing your internal editor can be a herculean feat that hardly feels worth it. Then again, there are plenty of writers out there who subscribe to the NaNoWriMo method, which is basically “worry about quantity now, quality later”. I’ve also been told by fellow writers that there’s a specific way you should go about writing a novel: planning, ugly first draft, revised second draft, any number of further revised drafts until your story plays out exactly as you want it to, and final editing. I don’t know about you, but just looking at that system makes me want to gather up everything I’ve ever written and sacrifice it to the god of bonfires.

Like I said, it mostly comes down to preference. Some people can follow steps like the ones above and be perfectly happy and content. Other people completely lose the ability to move on with the story if their internal editor is screaming at them to go back and change things. Additionally, some people can revise their work a hundred times and still find stuff they want/need to change, while others manage to hit the bulls-eye with the first shot and just have to worry about editing. It all really depends on what kind of writer you are.

As for myself? I’m still working on exactly what kind of writer I am. When I was younger I could never finish anything I wrote because I would regularly find major issues with my plot or decide that I wanted to make a significant change, and instead of dealing with it as I continued to write, I would start the damn thing over from scratch. In fact, my current work in progress is a story that I’ve completely rewritten from scratch no fewer than six times over the years. I’ve never reached the end. In fact, until about a month ago I’d never even reached the middle. My internal editor is just that powerful…she is a cruel witch who should be burned for her crimes.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. So as I was saying, my default setting seems to be edit-as-you-go, but as I’ve just described that’s not always a good thing for me. What really showed me the error of my ways was when I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month. I really wanted to reach that 50,000 word goal, and I knew that my current habits would not allow for that, so for one month I let myself just write. No matter how many mistakes I made or how awful some sentences sounded, I just forced myself to keep writing. Guess what happened? No, I didn’t finish my story. But I wrote 50,000+ words toward it, which was way better than I’d ever done before.

So clearly adopting the “ugly first draft” method was good for me, but even after several more NaNoWriMo’s I determined that it wasn’t something I could strictly adhere to. These blog posts are a great example. I edit these posts as I go, and it works just fine for me. Maybe the wording isn’t always as good, my thought process as organized as it might be if I were to draft my post first and then revise it, but I’m happy with what I produce. Alternatively, I continue to force myself to (mostly) ignore my internal editor (as she screams at me from her burning stake) while I’m writing fiction because NaNoWriMo has taught me that its more important to get the full story written than to make that one chapter absolutely perfect the first time around.

So I guess the short answer is that I do ugly first drafts and I edit as I go. In this, as with many things, I am a rebel. Sexy, huh? Yeah…you know it.