by John Bowers
In a previous article I talked about writer’s block, and how to keep writing something, anything, just to stay sharp, even if it has nothing to do with your project. There is something else you can do at times like that, and it may even help dissolve the block and get you going again.
Almost every writer who gives advice to other writers agrees that a first draft is never the final product, that the work, once finished, must be edited before being submitted to a publisher or agent. Good novels are never written, they are rewritten.
But for some, once that first draft is finished, the job of editing may seem overwhelming. You’ve just poured weeks or months, perhaps even years, into your project, and you’re all wrung out. Then you start reading from page one, you start finding mistakes, and it gets depressing.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
From time to time, no matter how prolific you are, you are going to sit down at that keyboard and stare at a blank page and you simply don’t know what to do. Writer’s block. This may be a good time to do a little ‘editing as you go’.
As a general practice, every day when I sit down to write, the first thing I do is to review what I wrote the day before. I set bookmarks every day when I start, and I can return to those bookmarks the next day to see what I created. As I read through, I invariably find typos, missing words, poor punctuation, you name it. In the heat of writing my mind will think one thing and my fingers will type something else (for example, in this very sentence my fingers typed “thing one thing” instead of “think one thing”) and those are much easier to fix on a daily basis than waiting until the book is finished. And when the first draft is finished, the rewrite will go much faster.
Use the Block
Writer’s block is frustrating, no question about it, but you can use that block to your advantage. In addition to editing what you wrote yesterday, writer’s block can sometimes be beneficial if you take the opportunity to go back and read the entire work from the beginning, or from some other significant starting point. In some cases I’ve found that I’m so far into a story that I forgot something that happened earlier, maybe a minor character I wanted to use, or something someone said that needs to be tied into the plot down the road…or deleted entirely. Taking the time to read before you finish will refresh the story in your mind and help you identify loose ends.
Taking advantage of writer’s block to do a read-through can not only help you identify problems, it sometimes gets you going again. By reading the story from page one you can often get a better feel for where the story is going, and new ideas may come to you. You may finish reading what went before and immediately start typing that next page. It happens.
Even if you don’t have writer’s block, a read-through before you finish is a good idea. You may find a major conflict in your story that will stop a reader cold, or you may need to insert a plot device to shore up something later in the novel. Such things are much easier to fix before you finish than later, when you’ve sweated out your last drop of blood and simply don’t have the energy to change a single word.
Give It Time
While we’re on the subject of rewrites, one thing is very important-once you write that last page and close the file for the last time, and the first draft is done, set it aside. Do not look at it for at least a month. I’m serious. Mark it on your calendar and then go do something else. Start another book. Take a vacation. Learn to speak Mandarin. Anything.
The reason for this is that you are too close to your story, and if you try to start the edit the day after you finish, you simply won’t be objective. Often I’ve looked at a story right after I finished it and thought it was pretty good, and other times I’ve been convinced it was really bad. But several weeks later, after the emotion has faded and my mind is clear, I can see it for what it is, good or bad.
Giving it time will help you identify problems-bad dialogue, inconsistent characters, logic problems in plotting, etc. While you’re writing it all makes sense, but when you stand back it’s easier to see the forest and not just the trees. No matter how good you are, no matter how famous, you will always make mistakes as you write, and if you don’t find them, your readers will.
Writing is hard work. It’s taxing. But it’s also fun. Writing a book is much like reading a book-you live the story as you write it. You become immersed in the plot and the characters. The only difference is that, as a writer, you are doing the creating, not the observing. When it’s all done and ready to submit, there is no greater sense of satisfaction. You’ve written a novel, told a story, and hopefully it will bring pleasure to others.
Have fun with it. If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it.
John Bowers is a very prolific author. His first published science fiction novel, A Vow to Sophia, is available at AKW Books in eBook form. The sequel, The Fighter Queen, was originally written as part of Vow but was split off because the resulting book was much too large for publication. Eventually, the series expanded to five books. His most recent book is Sirian Summer, which starts a new Nick Walker series. Another Nick Walker book is in the works, but his next book will be Starport, which is due out this month.
The entire Fighter Queen saga (currently 5 volumes) can be purchased at a discount price.