The best writing advice is always worth passing on.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about writing. She is a wonderful, wonderful writer. Her words flow together like silvery streams. They make me gasp and feel and ponder. All the good stuff.
But she doesn’t trust them.
She frets and worries over word choice. Going back and nitpicking sentences over and over again. Stopping the flow by shifting and changing and redirecting. Focusing on one word instead of getting them all out, putting them all down, going with the tide.
And so, she is stalled. Halfway through a manuscript, worried she won’t make it to the end.
“You have to trust your words,” I said to her yesterday. “Trust yourself as a writer and give yourself permission to get the job done. Your words are the least of your problems.”
Take your own writing advice
Afterwards, I smacked myself around the head a few times.
For I have been given this very same advice. From a trusted source.
At the time, I nodded and looked earnest and completely misunderstood. In giving the same advice to my friend, however, I finally got it.
It’s easy to get bogged down, worried that your words will never match the gleaming vision in your head.
You can get stuck in a holding pattern, mostly because you don’t have the courage to try the next thing, to push the boundaries a little, to see what’s possible – and so you focus on one word, in one sentence, worrying it to death.
Or you look at what you’ve written, and can’t see how it can be done differently. Going beyond what’s there, in black and white, is too hard.
There will never be a perfect first draft
At the end of the day, however, there will never be a perfect first draft.
You will always need to go back and rewrite. Probably several times.
I once asked literary agent Sophie Hamley what the biggest mistakes are that writers make when submitting to agents.
Her response? “They submit first drafts.”
Your first draft is not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be finished.
Today I saw this quote by Nora DeLoach: “If you fall in the love with the vision you want for your work, not with your words, the rewriting is easier.”
There is always rewriting. You get to go back. Once you’ve got it down.
Hold to your vision. Trust that the right words will be there when you need them. And then see what happens.
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My first draft was so skeletal, it was flapping in the breeze. After I had put it aside for a few days, I was mulling over how to improved it…I started fleshing it out more. Repeat x 2. Then I shared it with a ‘constructive feedback’ friend. Now I’ve gone back again…my brain was straining yesterday.
It definitely makes your brain hurt!
Just write and go with the flow in your mind. And words are true and real from deep within ourself. Trust is to be real and true to ourself and readers too. 🙂
This is great advice. I definitely ponder too much on one word or sentence! Just get it done!!
“You need to trust your words” – perfect and on your first draft too! x
So true Al, so true. I used to get bogged down in perfection. Sentence by sentence I would try with all my might to perfect my words. Then one day I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I realised it was not perfect (far from!) but I kept writing night after night and now I have a finished manuscript. A first draft in much need of editing but it is finished. Now I just need to trust in the editing process!
Great advice Allison. It is funny – I can feel confident with words within individual sentences, paragraphs, pages. But then I lose confidence in what I’m trying to say, the value of it, and then I go back and pore over the words! I think for me it is that I don’t trust I have a story to tell, or am telling the ‘right’ one. I have a memoir manuscript about our journey through infertility and adoption that sits there and mocks me (although I’ve been brave enough to share a few bits on my blog). Trust. That one word.
I love the sentiment – “Your first draft is not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be finished.” The more you stress over little things in your writing the worse it gets. Sometimes all it takes is for fresh eyes to look over your copy, or stepping away and redirecting your focus for a little while. I step back and do something else if I find the words are not coming the way I want them to. Usually taking a break for a moment helps you to re-focus. I have a process of getting drafts reviewed by fresh independent eyes, then I work on what needs to be “tweaked”.
Great post, Allison, thank you! I, too have an almost finished first draft packed in a box which sometimes says “boo” to me in the night just to let me know it’s there, unfinished and not yet perfect. I love and loathe those whispy typewritten sheets – what if they are crap, and who am I trying to kid by writing in the first place? But then, where would I be without them? Writing is a fickle friend to me – slaps me in face one day and kisses me the next 🙂
And that is what makes it so much fun!
I think I’m just not sure HOW shitty it can be and still be rectifiable. This is a realisation I’m just having this minute. How poorly can I write without ending up with a draft that is just totally unsalvageable?
Everything I’ve read says “Don’t worry, your first draft will be shit”, but no one ever shares them. My “shit” might be different from someone else’s “shit”. I don’t know how to move forward with writing shit when mine might be hundreds of times more shit than what’s usable later.
I understand why writers choose not to share their first drafts, but sometimes I’d love to see just what “it will be shit” really means.
HOW SHIT CAN IT BE, ALLISON TAIT?
Sorry. Was very busy working on my own shitty first draft.. It can be very shitty. You can’t fix a blank page. Also, people’s definition of shitty is different. I’d imagine Hemingway’s shitty first draft is quite different to mine. But at least I HAVE a first draft. If you write it down, you can see how it’s looking. YOu can massage. You can throw out 40,000 words and rewrite the ending. But at least you know what you don’t want. And what you do.
Right. Back to the writing thing.
Excellent advise Allison. I found myself editing as I worked on my novel yesterday and had to yell STOP (in my head, although I was at home and not a cafe…so I could have yelled out loud. Maybe next time). When I stopped nitpicking over every little word, the story flowed out. We just have to get out of our own way sometimes.
*advice. Don’t you hate commenting from a phone lol.
YES! Exactly. All of us do.
LOVE this! I have a three-quarters finished novel in my drawer that just needs to be finished. But I agonise over small details and distract myself with all manner of minutiae – I think because I’m not exactly sure what to do with myself once it’s finished. I write for a living and have no problem submitting articles or other pieces that have been commissioned, but a whole novel that I’ve written just because it was in me? I may as well scale the Opera House naked and wave my arms screaming ‘look at me and judge!’.
But I’ll do it, because it must be done. 🙂
Yes. Yes, it must.
Love this post Al. Trust flows both ways with writing and blogging. Trust your readers … and trust yourself