From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Look Back, Just Write

I am a nit-picker. Like, a major nit-picker. I could sit and fenangle one sentence for a week. Unfortunately, this doesn't get books written. Over-stressing about each word puts major breakers on your productivity, and honestly, probably doesn't make the words that much better anyway. In most cases, its your story that makes readers pick up your book, not brilliantly lyrical prose (unless your Norman Maclean or Wallace Stegner), and your story is what you have to get down in that occasionally torturous first draft. The beautiful prose can come later, when you get to the editing process.

I have had to train myself to remember this as I write. I'll finish a paragraph and think, mmmm, that could be better, I could use a better metaphor in this description, or whatever, but then I tell myself, yes, maybe you could, but do it later. Right now, finish this chapter.

Maybe you guys are better at just getting the words out there. Do you have any tricks for how to keep things flowing? Movie soundtracks have actually been a useful tool for me, because I'm not distracted by words, but the music helps me keep writing forward instead of constantly looking back. Like I said, I've had to train myself to keep writing, or else I could never reach my 1000 words a day.

I'm not saying that you have to be okay with sub-par writing. Thats what editing is for. I plan to go back and fix all the things that need fixing, after I finish the first draft. But right now, its the finishing of the first draft that is important.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen


  1. I've been forcing myself to write two pages a day. They're often not pretty, but I'm proud as hell when the word count keeps rising. I figure I'll get back to all the crap (which is probably most of it) later.

    Thanks for visiting my blog today, too! :) Nina

  2. I'm not the right person to answer (I'm lucky to write 1,000 words a week). But I'll comment anyway.

    I've found two things that keep me moving forward: White noise and new age instrumentals.

    For white noise I usually use a box fan on the highest speed. It's winter in Wisconsin (technically it's spring unless you look outside), so I point the fan into the wall. Another white-noise-maker I like is a large air cleaner.

    For new age music (For when I'm in the same room as my wife who can't stand loud white noise), I tune to iTunes Radio and wear a pair of headphones.

    My biggest problem is rewriting when I sit down to write. In order to get back on track, I read the previous scene I wrote. That's when I find my writing session veering off course.

    If I can start writing, I usually find myself moving forward.

  3. Hi Sara!

    Well, I must say I'm struggling with this very problem right now. In order to enter the flow, I have to read at least from the beginning the scene I'm working, and that's where the problem starts, as I found myself editing instead of writing. I dare say first draft is the major challenging for me. Editing? Love it!

  4. It's funny, but Twitter is helping me become a better writer. Whereas writing only occupied part of my brain previously, my conscious efforts toward succinctness now keep my entire brain focused on writing. It probably sounds a lot like editing when I put it that way, but it actually comes pretty quickly! I tend to be really verbose, so putting on my "succinct writer's cap" this way is what helps me tune out the noise and get the words out. :)

    Not everything should be succinct, certainly, but in my case it's good to be mindful of my tendency toward Germanic prose!

  5. I just got an idea and started a new story. I've only written two pages and I am already going back and re-writing. I can't help it.

  6. Hi Sarah, Thanks for visiting my blog, I'm pleased I've found yours that way. My initial concern when I started writing was how I could keep up with the words that formed while I could only type so fast. I wished for a brake and perhaps I got a break that way. My suggestion: don't suffer over those first sentences, go with The Flow. Try writing by hand if you can, and when you do, try not to take your pen or pencil (my fave) off the paper. Keep on writing no matter what. Write for 5 minutes, write for 10 or 15. Write down what comes up without being judgmental about wording or even changing the subject. Sometimes that's how we get to the core, the heart of the story. I recommend Gabriele Rico's Writing the Natural Way. Her clustering method helped me a lot in the beginning years. Good luck and Write On!

  7. I think there are basically two kinds of writers. 1) The full-speed-ahead, damn the typos, spit-out-your-first-draft-whole types (They love NaNoWriMo) 2)The "oh, no--I left out a comma...or should it be a semicolon...or maybe I should leave that sentence out entirely types. I'm definitely the latter. That's why, when I've got a story forming in my head, I force myself to be more NaNoWriMo about it. No going back. Three pages a day, minimum. I still sweat the small stuff on first draft a lot more than most writers I know, but at least I can get the story on the screen. We have different demons, but it sounds as if yours and mine belong to the same family.

  8. I'm having such a hard time not going back to earlier parts of my novel, when what I need to do is write the ending! Yes, I need to just write it, and then I can go back and make sure it all works. Right? Write!

  9. I write FAST. Here's the thing, if I want to change it, I change it. When I open my computer to my current doc, if something doesn't jump out at me to write, I look over a random piece of my MS.
    Also, as soon as I finish a scene, or get past that point where my fingers are flying because I don't want to lose whatever thought I have - the first thing I do is to read back over it.
    We all have our own methods. But yeah, if nitpicking is keeping you from finishing? STOP IT :D

  10. A 1,000 words per day? I bow.

    Mostly I write the first draft and just focus on getting the story down. Clarifying a scene and dressing up the chapter come much later, like in the third or fourth draft.

  11. Simple, I just write, put a goal for yourself, say 500 words, write them without fail. Then think about the changes you want. But don't forget to add 500 new words everyday!! (The words added while making changes don't count)!!

    that way, you can keep focused on both writing, keeping moving ahead and creating good prose / poetry!!!

    with warm regards

  12. OMG! I do exactly that! I will anguish over just the exact right word for any given sentence, or will take me ages to write a page because I'm stressing over every third or forth word..1000 words a day is really excellent! Thanks for visiting my blog, :))

  13. I write on a Neo; that way, I can see only a few lines of text at a time. It makes it MUCH easier to keep going, because it is a PAIN to look back! It also removes the distraction of the internet, which is always pulling me when I am working on my laptop. At the end of each writing session, I upload my work into Word, where it awaits editing another day.

  14. High-five for movie soundtracks!

    I should start forcing myself to write because my current piece is just being (pardon the language) a bitch. No idea why. I've never had to muscle through something this much. I feel like I'm trying to bake cookies with an ingredient missing....(maybe I am missing something...)

  15. An interesting post which proves how different writers are. I couldn't care less about missing a comma while I'm on the first draft. I write that story down fast - before it escapes.
    The second and third drafts are when I fret over each and every word. I drive myself nuts. :)

  16. Sarah, what a great blog you have! And I love your writing. It was so nice of you to comment on my blog, and I'm even happier now b/c it led me here.

    I've learned to write fast and not stop to correct myself, but I'm a fast touch typist, who used to be a court reporter, and speed is my game. I change a lot in the editing.

    You're on my blogroll now so I can read what you write. Love it.

  17. Great comments, everyone, thanks for your ideas and kind words. Keep that writing moving forward :)


  18. I'm in the middle of my first draft and this has been my problem. I keep wanting to go back and fix things but I have to force myself to push forward. I actually have a post-it on my computer that says "It's okay if it sucks!" because I need to remember that the beautiful writing will come in revisions. Right now I just have to focus on getting the story down.

  19. I love your pics and your mission.

    Best of luck on all your ventures, writing or living.



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