Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Think, Just Write

Today's guestblog is from @countmystars, with a little hope for what you may all learn from the NaNoWriMo/IndiWriMo experience.

Don't Think, Just Write

“Now the good times have begun, that's not a fire, it's just the sun, it's like the old man said, take the money and run – but what's the rush? Let's take the One.” – The Old 97's, “The One”

One of the pieces of advice writers hear most often is to edit, edit, edit. “Kill your darlings”, we're told. Cut out everything that isn't strictly necessary. Which is good advice, generally speaking, but how often do we internalize it to the point where we start editing before we should? How often do we self-censor during the drafting process, because we know we're not supposed to over-write – or stick too strictly to an outline because we've already decided what's important to the story, and nothing else is allowed in? Being able to edit is an essential skill in rewriting, but it can be deadly in the drafting process.

Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in the “should”s and forget that a first draft is just that – a first draft. Space to play and experiment and figure out exactly what your story is. To over-write, if you want, just to follow an idea and see where it takes you. To ramble on about the characters' favorite bands and how much they hate their landlord and everything except the plot, when the ideas won't come and you don't know what the next scene is. So what if you're not “supposed to”... just because the scene won't end up in the finished draft doesn't mean it lacks value. Over and above the fact that it can be fun to just write without feeling the need to get through a scene as quickly as you can, the pages you write and eventually cut may turn out to be good for your story.

NaNoWriMo participants often get a bad rap for padding their word counts, babbling on and on just to meet their daily quota or reach 50,000 words faster. But this approach to the first draft has many hidden benefits. Those conversations between characters that run on for three pages can reveal who the characters are outside their function in advancing the plot. Florid paragraphs of description may hide unexpected phrases that make your story sing. There will be time enough to identify and polish these jewels in the revision process – right now, for your first draft, just switch off your inner editor and see what happens. We've all heard of those moments of great inspiration that happen while a writer is “in the flow”... it's much easier to achieve that flow when we quit worrying about whether the scene we're writing will end up in the finished story or not.

Another benefit of the “don't think, just write” approach is that it makes writing feel less like work. Most of us started traveling this path because we love to write, but it's all too easy to lose sight of this when we're overwhelmed with advice from all sides and trying too hard to follow it all. When we focus too much on our destination and lose sight of the journey. So, whether you're charging ahead towards 50,000 this November, or noodling around with a new short story, try taking the scenic route. Stop along the way and explore. Have fun. Play. Experiment. Discover what your story really is. Whether you reach the destination you originally intended or somewhere else altogether, it will be well worth the trip.

Elizabeth M. Thurmond lives in, and often writes about, Los Angeles. She can be found on the internet at

1 comment:

Leigh said...

Yes, so true, Liz! I often end up with massive word counts for first drafts, knowing the real writing is in the rewriting. And I don't read what I wrote the previous day (save for a few sentences to get me going) or else I would only revise and never finish! My motto has always been, Just Finish It!!