Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Folly of Revising While Writing First Drafts - Revision Paralysis

It took me less than three months to finish the first draft of WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS.  Writing it was almost an obsession.  The words flowed like water, and I didn't stop to think about what I was writing or how it sounded or what I might need to go back and fix later.  I just needed to get the story out of me.

Fast forward to present day.

I started writing my latest WIP in October, yet I'm only 1/4 of the way through my first draft. The old me would have written two first drafts and sent out a handful of premature queries by now. So what changed? The story is still inside of me.  The words are still itching to come out.   But every time I sit down to work I end up reworking what I previously wrote because I can see all the flaws, and I feel compelled to fix them.  Immediately.

Revising STAIRS taught me so much, and there's no doubt that the process of getting it query-ready has made me a better writer.  But I'm starting to think that all my newly acquired knowledge is stunting my creative process.

I now know what my bad habits are, why showing is good and telling is bad, how passive voice slows down my pacing, why voice is key to writing compelling characters, how too much voice can grate, what words I overuse (was, had, that, just, actually), why first chapters are critical and first lines just as important, how pop-culture references can date your story, how chapter endings can be leveraged to created tension, what story cliches I need to watch out for, why back story can be distracting (but sometimes useful if leveraged in the right, non-telling, way), why every character needs clear motivation, why I need to make the reader care about the character before jumping into the action but not delaying the action too much, and OMFG will someone get me off this f*cking hamster wheel because it's starting to make me sick!!!

You get the picture.  It's a lot to have running through your head when you're trying to get your story down on paper (or virtual paper in this case.)

I've gone back and forth on whether this is a bad thing or a good thing.  On the one hand, if my revisions are actually good then I could end up with something closer to the final draft than a first draft when I'm done, and maybe shorten the time spent revising in the long run.  But on the other hand, how will I ever get to that final draft if I'm constantly turning around to revise what's already been written?

So here's my question - Does anyone else out there suffer from this?  And have you found it to be a good thing, or a bad thing?

Any advice for revision paralysis?


  1. I write so many different ways. Each time it is different. Don't know why. That's jus the story leading me to where it wants to go. Lately, I do the same thing with the story - revise as I go along. I think I do that because it has been so long since I've worked on the piece that I need to reacquaint myself with the story and I go back and read before writing more. Hope this helps!

  2. That's a good point - maybe this writing process is different for me because it needs to come out in a different way. I never really thought about that. :) Thanks for the advice!