“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning,
and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again.”
Know the feeling? I certainly do! You know what I mean: the sinking feeling that you’re stuck, treading water, marking time, not really making any progress. When you hit one of these moments, it’s tempting to keep fussing with your writing, trying to make it absolutely perfect. If you’re on your first draft, this approach can be deadly. It can rob your of your momentum and your motivation.
If you’re struggling with a sentence or a plot point and you find yourself getting mired in it, just let it go, give it a rest, and come back to it. After you’ve made some more headway and you have a little distance from it, you’ll often find that a stubborn stumbling block you were struggling with really isn’t so tough to deal with after all. You’ll have a fresh angle on it or what you’ve written after that point will shed light on the change you need — or you may decide to dump it all together because it isn’t working or doesn’t add anything.
Trying to get everything right, everything perfect, before you move on can really sabotage your progress. When I was working on the first draft of my YA novel, I was submitting sections of it to my writing group for feedback — all of which was very helpful. But I made a conscious decision to stick all these comments in a file folder and come back to them after I’d completed my first draft. Why? Mainly because I realized that if I stopped and started tinkering with what I had already gotten down on the page, I’d never make any real progress — or I’d be moving so slowly that I’d get totally frustrated.
The time to write backward is later, when you have a first draft under your belt and you have a sense of what your work looks like as a whole. With your draft completed, you can begin shaping and pruning it, enriching your characters, spicing up your dialogue, tightening up or expanding your description, rewriting tired language, and revving up the pace. So write forward and when you’re arrived at where you think you want to go, then you can backtrack and bolster.
I am so guilty of this Karin! I agonize over perfecting every syllable as I write and am then frustrated to have made little progress. If I am with you and Oscar Wilde though,then I’m in pretty good company!
Thanks for the great post.
Thanks so much for your wonderful note and encouragement.
I can relate totally to your comment, as this is something I
struggle with all the time. But I’ve also come to see that
forward motion really is vital in pushing my work to
completion. We can always go back and polish.