Don’t Revise a First Draft


But if your book has to be nothing less than perfect, you probably won’t finish the first chapter. And what you have of that chapter, fraught as it would be with the taint of imperfection, probably won’t be very good, anyway.
            Here is the salient message in this entry: DO NOT revise that sentence, paragraph or page until you have completed your current train of thought. In my opinion, it’s best not to revise at all until you’ve finished the whole first draft – that way, you’re more likely to get it done – but I know that sometimes that’s impossible, either because you’re being compelled to submit your manuscript one or two chapters at a time, or because your story has changed in some fundamental way from its original form. When this is the case, at least put off revising until the end of a chapter. Otherwise, try to get to THE END before going back to the beginning.
            Some of you will feel resistant to this concept, perhaps without really knowing why. The reason, if I may be so bold as to venture a guess, is probably because you don’t really know what’s going to come next in your story, and you’d rather work endlessly on what you already know than venture into uncharted territory. This problem is easily remedied by an outline, which I’ll address in later entries. You ought to know, though, that I believe wholeheartedly in the value of outlines. Your outline is your lifeline, and that’s a fact.
            Anyway, back to senseless revisions: They’re a way to mark time so that it seems like you’re working when you’re really stuck. So face facts and move on. Write badly if you have to. And by the way, you WILL have to. Writing badly is the only way to eventually write well.
            Novel writing is the art of revision. That deserves a paragraph of its own.
            My point is, don’t worry about your writing being sloppy because it was done quickly. In the first place, strange as it seems, your writing will probably be better rather than worse as a result of speedy writing. That’s because you’re allowing your creative juices to flow freely by not restricting them with a lot of perfectionistic editor-in-your-head headgames. Secondly, unless you’re an egomaniac, you’ll probably like what you’ve written a lot more after you’ve finished than you think you will while you’re writing it.
            This is my motto: ANYTHING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING BADLY.
Remember, novel writing is the art of revision. Never are those first tentative sentences the measure of your worth as a writer. A novel is constantly being rewritten, tweaked, added to, subtracted from. If you’re not willing to change your material because it’s a waste of words, pages, and time, then become a mathematician. That’s a field where absolutes exist. There are no perfects in writing.
            And a corollary to that maxim is this: Something is better than nothing. If you write a bad first draft, hey, you have a first draft. After that, all it will take to produce a finished novel is a little rewriting. Well, a lot of rewriting. Big deal. If you’re a writer, then you probably like to write, right? For me, polishing is a lot more fun than laying words down on that blank page. So get the words down, however clumsy, foolish, silly, or irrelevant you think they may be, because
 

1)      Chances are you’re wrong about how bad your draft is
2)      You’re going to have to revise it, whether you’re 90% there or 10%, because no one ever gets it right the first time out of the box
3)      Writing fast will make your writing better, believe it or not           
            The third benefit of writing fast is that you’ll cover more ground. The end of a book always takes me by surprise: One day it’s still somewhere on the distant horizon, and the next day it’s there at the bottom of the page, THE END. By writing fast, you lose that feeling that it’s an unending project that will never get done.
            It DOES get done. It WILL get done. Keep in mind while you write that your project is finite, and the faster you write, the sooner you’ll get to the end.