Reasons for not writing #2: Rewriting

writer-200pxWhat do you mean by “writing”? It’s a serious question. Think about it for a moment.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours “writing”. (Notice the inverted commas.) In fact, I was actually rewriting – going over some stuff I’d done the day before, tightening it, improving it, adding a little here, pruning a little there. At the end of a two-hour session, the book that it will be a part of was the grand total of 179 words longer.

In the old days – which is to say, up until a few of months ago – I’d have called that “writing”. After all, isn’t it still part of the general process of creating fiction? Yes, it can be. But it can also be a fantastic excuse NOT TO WRITE.

These days, I take a more pragmatic approach to writing. (Notice the absence of inverted commas.) These days, what I call writing is simply the production of new words that move the story on.

So rewriting isn’t writing. Planning isn’t writing. Outlining isn’t writing. Drawing up character sheets, researching, plotting, preparation, grammar and spell checking … none of these things are writing because none of them add substantially to your story.

Oh, they may do so indirectly. May, in fact, be integral to your production of that story, but they are not writing!

For years, I’ve done all of the above – and more – and told myself I’m writing. Complete BS, of course. ‘Oh, I’m cruising the internet looking at common grammatical errors. It’s bound to help my work.’ Yeah, right!

So after I’d dithered and fussed and prettified yesterday, I realised I hadn’t actually written anything. I’m currently in what I call book mode, which is to say churning out the first draft of a new novel. (“Churning” is an appropriate term and my first drafts don’t even get a number. I call them all Draft 0. But more about that in later posts.) When I’m in book mode, I aim to write 1,500 words a day, five days a week. Yesterday, clearly, I stuffed up.

What to do?

Simple, actually. I reset my daily target, shut the fuck up, and got on with it. Here’s the result from the writing spreadsheet I keep:


Daily writing spreaksheet


In addition to the 179 extra words from the rewrite, I did another 1,564 words that day. My brain is slowly getting used to the idea that when I tell it I want 1,500 words, it’s simplest recourse is to comply.

(You might also notice I only managed 828 words on Monday, 15 August. Sometimes, external factors can’t be ignored, but I don’t let myself off. The following day I made up for it by writing more than two thousand words.)

The fact is that rewriting, editing and all the rest is a piece of cake compared to actually getting something down on paper. If writing was easy, everyone would do it. Instead, most people just talk about doing it. But as you now know, talking about writing isn’t writing either.

Try this

  • Books are read sequentially, but they don’t have to be written sequentially. If you’re stuck on a scene, move on somewhere else. You can always come back to it later.
  • Can’t remember a character detail or need to look something up on the net? Rather than break your flow, double-question mark the spot and carry on. (Eg. “Her blue?? eyes twinkled.”) Later, when you’re writing-but-not-writing, it’s easy to search out and correct all those double-question marks.
  • Consider taking part in Nanowrimo. It runs every November with the aim of writing 50,000 words in that month. That’s 1,667 words every day for 30 days. You can plot, outline and prepare beforehand, but November is really just about getting words on paper. It’s a tremendous challenge and requires a lot of discipline, but give it a shot. What’s the worse that could happen? You might fail and only write 40,000 words. Sheesh!

Now get writing!

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