There’s a lot of advice running around the internet as to whether or not an author should self-edit during the initial writing process. Keep in mind that different methods work for different people, so what I’m sharing below is what worked for me and why. Arguments could be made both ways, but the important thing is to find what works best for you.
For me, self-editing turned out to be my biggest weakness. To break it down simply: I got too distracted by trying to make things look presentable. I hyper-fixated on everything that was wrong with what I’d written, and I eventually discouraged myself from continuing. “You can’t even get this sentence right; you really think people are going to want to read this?” was a familiar mantra. I’d get to maybe 15,000 words and stagnate, eventually losing all desire and motivation to carry on.
So, when NaNoWriMo started, I vowed I was going to get it done. It was easy for me to see what I needed to do in order to make my word counts. Doing it was going to be the problem. Because of that, I had a shaky start. the words came slower because I was trying to incorporate everything I thought I wanted. Occasionally I found myself going back and tweaking some things just to make them match what I wrote further on.
Eventually I lightened up and I kept the bare-bones descriptions, the skeletons of dialogues, and flatbread characters. It was like a crack appeared in the dam. Words began to trickle out faster.
Then I hit the writers mortal enemy: the block. I had a scene coming up that I could see in my mind’s eye, yet had no idea how to articulate it into words. Pretty sure I stopped writing for a few days after that. I started adding up the deficit I was going to have to make up on my days off. Panic settled in around 10,000 words or so. I had two days off coming up, so I thought whatever, I’ll bust it out then. I figured maybe taking a few days off would replenish the urn of inspiration.
No such luck. The moment I sat down I knew I was doomed. I was getting angry. I was starting to see the discouragement coming. I was disgusted with myself. Finally I got fed up enough that I outlined the scene as an actual paragraph, and moved on to the next scene. Or, as I’m going to demonstrate below, when my scenes began to contradict things that I wrote earlier, I wrote notes to myself to go back and fix areas later. Sometimes it happened right in the middle of a paragraph.
Some of those notes happened to refer to scenes I hadn’t written, but now wanted to write based off ideas that were literally just written down. I chose this particular paragraph because it also demonstrates my lack of caring when it came to how well-written things were (i. e.: word vomit).
Now, for me, this switch was easy enough to flip. I managed to shut my brain up long enough to look at an annoying, glaring error and continue on.
Some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve found a couple of things that might help those that need a little extra motivation, or maybe a heavier, more disciplined hand. These are the two easiest that come to mind while also maintaining the low price of: free.
- BlindWrite blurs out your words as you go so you can’t judge what you’ve already written
- Earnest locks you out of editing, formatting, grammar/spellchecking, ect…
RescueTime and Freedom are both paid, internet browser writing apps.
Freedom is also available for free in the Apple App Store. so is Unplugged and Focus Keeper.
Much like the time-constraints of NaNoWriMo itself, I’ve found that setting a timer will increase the likelihood of me just writing. Some people perform well under applied pressure.
Now these methods aren’t for all people. Some manage to make it through NaNo just fine, editing the whole way. Ted Boone’s managed to finish several rounds of NaNo, all the while editing his novel as he went. If you’re struggling one way, try it the other. If you’re struggling that way too, try a blend of both. Find what works best for you and stick with it.
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