Good things came from this “break” however. I enjoyed the seaweed-infested gulf. There was a lot of swimming, seashell hunting, and lounging. I managed a tan without a sunburn first (score!), and I only gained two pounds from all the eating. But to be honest, I was ready to come home two days early. I missed my dog terribly (to the point of tears, no joke), and I missed the comforts of home, namely, my own bed. Another thing that drove my desire to be home: the urge to work on my manuscript.
I had my manuscript with me, thanks to my handy-dandy laptop, but I refused to work on it while on vacation. Nothing good would have come of it. I was too distracted by the beach to be able to write productively. As the week wore on, my manuscript wiggled its way to the forefront of my mind. When I last left it, I had written a somewhat exciting scene that I enjoyed, but I knew that something was wrong with what I had written. Something felt off. Instead of working through it and fixing the problem, I ignored it, pushed it to the back of my mind, and tried to forget about it. The two weeks away helped work out what exactly was wrong with the scene, and as the vacation neared its end, I formulated a plan to fix it.
Most of this novel-doctoring came while I was taking my many showers throughout the day: once when I woke, then when I came in from the beach, then when I came in from the pool, then when I came in from the beach again… etc. And these were nice, long, glorious showers. Up to thirty minutes at minimum! I’m so used to showering for only five minutes in the morning here, due to our terrible water heater and wasteful showerhead, that the extra time lent itself to more creative thought, beyond the usual shampoo, wash face, soap up, rinse. I made a plan to fix the broken scene before I moved on to the next one.
There is a debate between writers on which is better: editing as you go, or editing after the fact.
Some writers believe that writing with no regard to plotting, grammar, sentence structure, etc. is the way to do, worrying only about how many words are on the page. I used to be this writer. With my first novel, my only concern was how many words I had written. It didn’t matter if they were utter crap or utter genius. They were merely words, and if they needed fixing, I could do so after I had finished the novel. To be fair, I finished that novel rather quickly. On the other hand, it took me even more time to fix what I had written.
Before my first serious endeavor into writing a novel, I was an editorial writer. I edited as I wrote, fixing things as I went. I wrote essays, short stories, and poetry this way. My many unfinished novels were written this way. When I decided to actually finish a novel, my goal was merely to reach my word count goal. It didn’t matter if the novel was good because I could edit it later. Writing a novel is hard work. Writing a novel twice is even harder. I gave up on that novel during the course of the rewrite. It had exhausted all of my energy to the point where thinking of that novel made me nauseous. It still makes me twinge just a bit.
So when I dove into Chroniker City, the steampunk project, I had it in my mind to write it right the first time. Now, when writing, I work deliberately, finding the perfect words or turns of phrase to best execute an idea, making sure sentences flow rhythmically, and keeping consistent with characterization. It takes a lot of time to write this way, nearly twice as long as writing without abandon. But in my mind, it’s the right way to write.
My friend and critique partner Darby said it this way (taking from something she read in a book on craft): … when we take time to write well the first round, then we are training ourselves to write well. When we write sloppy just for the sake of speed, we are only training ourselves to write badly.
This struck a chord with me, and it bolstered my resolve to continue writing this way, even if it meant I wouldn’t hit my 1000 word goal each day. While there is no excuse for not writing these past couple weeks, I am committed to stop ignoring the problems I come across and fix them as they need fixing. I won’t move on without feeling at least 95% sure that what I have written is good. And I won’t avoid my novel when it’s giving me problems.
Are you an editorial writer? How do you keep going when you’re stuck?