In writing, forward motion is everything.”
In my experience, we writers tend to fall into two camps When it comes to first drafts: 1) Those who feel compelled to tinker with and polish their prose as they go, and 2) Those who barrel full steam ahead to produce a full, flawed draft and then go back and fine tune.
I’ve been a tinkerer for much of my writing life — penning a scene here and a scene there, then polishing obsessively. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of building and sustaining momentum by writing from start to finish.
Some time ago, I read a helpful handbook by Persia Woolley, a successful trilogy author. In Persia’s experience, many writers get bogged down in editing their prose as they go, which can prove sluggish and frustrating. Her advice: “…keep telling your story; do not give in to the desire to stop and perfect each segment before you tackle the rest.”
If you break your rhythm and tinker with each piece, she warns, you sacrifice valuable momentum because “…you are nowhere near experiencing the flow and excitement of creation.” It’s far more productive, in her view, to write through your full draft and then go back and refine it.
Why? Mainly because readers like to be “carried forward by the pull” of a story. To create this “pull,” “…you need to keep your tale moving from peak to peak, following the arc of your story to climax and denouement in order to carry your audience along.”
The more I write, the more I see the soundness of Persia’s approach. Rhythm and momentum are so key, not just in storytelling, but in story drafting. When we keep moving forward, our tales have a kind of headlongedness (my word, and I love it!): a propulsive energy that readers can feel. I’ve come to believe that over tinkering can fritter away this valuable energy: It’s like moving the hands of a clock, instead of winding it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love to polish and word smith — and make a joyful noise with my prose. But slowly, I’ve learned the value of savoring this aspect of writing once I really have something meaty to work with.
How about you? Are you a polisher or a forward-motion writer? Something to ponder as you write on.