Bianca asks: “How do you keep from revising every time you sit down and write? I have this problem when I try to write. At first, I read through the story to know where I left off and get the feel of it, but then I notice that it doesn’t sound right at all. So I revise it, and sometimes I write the beginning all over again when I get a new idea. When my writing time is over I find out that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do in the first place which was trying to ‘advance’ the story.”
Thanks Bianca, for again, a very interesting question and one that writers always come up against. I also have this problem a lot, I tend to polish, polish, polish what I have written before every time I go in to write. I find revising soothing (except NOW when I have a real revision I’m doing. NOT SOOTHING AT ALL.) In this I mean, I like the process of polishing up sentences and moving things around and rewriting things I’ve written the night before. Doing that kind of writing gets me “into” the story so that I know WHERE I need to go next. And here’s my secret: my first draft of the new pages are CRAP. I mean: disjointed sentences, just a lot of notes even, skeletal, a mess. But I get my ideas down.
Then you know what happens the next day? All that crap I wrote the night before, is now my SOOTHING REVISION process for the next morning. And I find that even if what I have written the day before is a bunch of disjointed, hastily-sketched scenes, the next day, I can always make it BETTER. And the next day, even BETTER and BETTER and BETTER. But I don’t let myself go to bed without writing at least a LITTLE of the new stuff – so that I have something for tomorrow. In this way, you will find your story advances even just a little bit every day, but by the end of the week, you will see you have done a lot.
The thing with writing is, the process is the one that will save you. There’s no escape from work. The books will not write themselves. You have to dedicate some time to sitting in front of a computer and working it out. Whether this is two hours or ten hours a day, that’s the only way things get done.
Also, as in life, it is best not to be TOO hard on oneself when you are writing. You have to accept imperfection, for me, I still struggle with wanting the first draft to be awesome, because heh heh, if the first draft is awesome, then there aren’t any more revisions to do! Work is done, SPA TIME BABY! But of course, that is not the way of the world. In fact, the more you revise and restructure and polish, the better your book will be. And it takes a long time to learn this, but the more you do it, the better you will be at it. It’s like practicing piano. I had eight years of piano lessons and I can’t play a note. Why? Because I never practiced.
I believe effort and discipline and dedication always triumphs over sloth and pure “innate” talent. If you have talent but you don’t hone it, how talented are you? It’s like when I was in college, all the cool-kids like me thought we were too smart to study, (I was a huge, huge crammer, and I still managed to pull really good grades: from sophomore year to first semester senior year I had all A’s). I always believed that because I was a quick study, and was fast, in that I could think fast, and I could skip over things, that it would bring me all the academic prizes I wanted. But then graduation came, and I didn’t graduate with honors—I did well, but not extraordinarily, and it really bugged me since I was an overachieving little nerd, whereas friends who spent time in the library and working, nose-to-grindstone, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with an asterisk next to their name in the commencement program. THIS BUGS ME TO THIS DAY. I could have had that asterisk. Or that key. I was as smart as any of those kids who got them if not smarter. But I was lazy, and I cruised through my classes without breaking a sweat. Anything that took effort, I shunned. Who needed to work? Not me!
But I learned my lesson. And the interesting thing is, my husband is not like me, he is a methodical person, very disciplined, very thorough, and works harder than anyone I know. When he was in architecture school most nights he was in the studio until two in the morning, if not five AM during crit time. He graduated top of his class (I’m not exaggerating: he graduated “number one” he won the highest award at the school). And he still works like this. I have come to work like this, and I’ve learned that if you’re smart and quick and lazy, you won’t end up with as much as if you are smart and diligent and try hard and make an EFFORT.
So, writing means making an effort. Putting everything into it, and not phoning it in. You know? Break a sweat.