Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing it Fast vs Writing it Right

Last night I got a tweet that beautifully encapsulated an insecurity I've had for a while now. 

I swear, Sofia, I'm not posting this to pick on you! This is actually a very legitimate question that does not have a clean, easy, 140 character answer, and so here I am in the long form.

Since figuring out how to write 10k a day, I've maintained a steady 7-8k daily writing average, sometimes dipping down to 5k, sometimes going up to 12k depending on a number of factors like stress, personal life, where I am in the story, etc. I also plan my books carefully, even more so now than I used to, and yet for the past several novels I've had to stop in the middle of the book and go back, often multiple times. Not because I wasn't following the plan, but because I'd realized mid-writing that the plan was wrong.

The problem with becoming known for writing quickly is that an internal pressure starts to build. Once I wrote a book in twelve days, suddenly I felt like I had to write everything at maximum speed. If I didn't, people would think I was a fraud and a failure. I was failing people who believed in me, failing myself, DOOOOOOOM!

This is, of course, complete bumpkiss. Books are not widgets or standardized puzzles you solve. Target Word Count / Words Per Hour =/= Total Hours Spent on a novel. All the planning and methods in the world can't stop things from going off track. Grand plans fall through, better ideas appear, shine wears off, mistakes are made. Hell, sometimes I'm just flat out wrong about how a novel needs to go, and discovering just how wrong I am can be a multi-week process that ends with me stopping the book mid-draft and going back to fix things because I simply can't keep going forward on such a faulty structure.

Setbacks like these can be very frustrating. They are also a totally natural part of writing. There is no efficiency hack for having all the right ideas at the right time. Things that look easy during plotting turn out to be wrong in amazingly subtle ways once you get into the actual text. This doesn't mean my time planning them was wasted. Quite the contrary, if I hadn't planned what I was going to do, I wouldn't have been able to see that it wasn't working until the book was finished, or failed utterly.

As my books get more complex and my ability to self edit improves, I find myself stopped and going back to re-write more and more. As a result, it's actually started taking me longer to finish each book than a year ago, and while I'm not happy about that, I don't feel I've been wasting my time. Is this the most efficient way to work? Almost certainly not, and I'm actively looking for a way to make it more so, because EFFICIENCY!

But while I hope one day to figure out a brilliant breakthrough process that will eliminate this backtracking, but I'm not holding my breath. The truth is, no matter how good my methods get or how much experience I accrue, I'm going to make keep making mistakes in my books. Because I am human, and (despite my love of best practices and repeatable results) this is an art, not a science. I'm okay with that, though, because what really matters is getting the story right.

When all is said and done, no one will remember how fast I wrote a book. No one will care how few or many drafts it took. These things are purely for me. But at the end of the day, all readers care about, and therefore all I really care about, is the story itself. Did I give them a tale well told? Did I deliver on the promise I made them when they took a gamble on my book? This is what really matters in writing, not speed or efficiency or any of the other things I can get so obsessed with. And this is why, despite my grousing and moaning, I never truly begrudge rewrites. What feels like a a knock backwards is a actually necessary step in the right direction, even if I was only figuring out that I was headed in the wrong one. The point is that I'm still moving, and when I am finished, I will have the best book possible, which is the goal of the entire operation.

Happy writing/rewriting!
- Rachel (now in the middle of her third, and hopefully final, rewrite of the middle of this book)


KJ said...

So well articulated! I'm in 'rewrite' mode for an interminable amount of time it seems but the book more often than not needs it. I'm happy because each chapter gets tighter, each plot point more relevant, each line of dialogue more significant. Of course I could be in this mode forever but oddly, the 'finish line' seems closer now that I've worked so hard. Thanks for always being so inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Reading through your posts is always an interesting introspection on writing. I thoroughly enjoy it and find this one no less relevant.

I recently ran in to the same issue in a story I was writing and it just didn't work. I had a very similar insight, but I didn't trust it (I doubt my 'eye' is as developed as yours) and have no discovered that I have to go and repair and re-work because I stuck to my original plan to heavily.

Good to hear this piece of advice. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This experience is just as true, alas, of most professional work. There is a creative element in marketing plans and software programs, just as in novels. And, uh, we get it wrong a lot, too.

The true sign of quality is to 1) know enough about what you are doing to know that whatever it is, it isn't working out and 2) having the guts to rewrite it to get it right.

Great post -- there are a lot of people who need to read this besides authors.

Linda Bell said...

Your book impressed & encouraged me. You still do.

Are you actually rewriting? Changing the plot that you already planned? If so, plan more. Try tarot, book: Tarot and Writing (or something like that).

Or are you improving it by expanding descriptions? Then when drafting, put [description] & go back and fill in.

Or are you improving my increasing reactions? Or other ways? Then you are gaining writing skills.

To become a better writer sometimes you have to slow down to learn something. Then the speed picks up.

I'm still studying gaining speed.

E.S. Ivy said...

I just finished 2K to 10K.(I wish I could remember where I saw a reference to it so I could give credit.) Thanks for writing this post! Now I won't be so hard on myself if I don't immediately get the same results you do. :) As a recovering perfectionist that is slow at *everything* I do, speed is hard. But as a perfectionist who wants to do *everything* perfect, it's something I work on!

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