A bad writing foundation is better than no foundation, right?

Alright, so I just finished my  first writing-cation day, and let me tell you, it was pretty successful.  After a rough start (i.e. 6:30 am train ride), I arrived in Davis, ate some crepes, and got started.  I set a goal of 7,000 words, which I didn’t quite meet, but I did make it to about 6,000, so all in all not bad.  Tomorrow will be even better, I’m sure.  Hopefully.

More importantly, I’ve managed to advance the plot quite a bit, even though I came to the realization that a lot of my sentences were pretty terrible.  Not the nicest realization, but when you’re trying to slap down as many words as you can, it’s not always going to be pretty.  But, I decided that the goal is to get a foundation in place, and then after that’s complete, I can go back and fix up everything. 

I first tried this method when I did NaNoWriMo a couple years ago–the goal of this is to write a whole novel, or 50,000 words and a complete story arc, in a month.  It’s actually really fun, but when you’re done, you’ll have a pretty ugly first draft.  This was how I wrote my first story, and it was awful–I usually try to pretend it never happened.  I decided there was nothing I could do to salvage that sad wreck of a first draft, but the next year I did NaNoWriMo again, and that’s actually how I wrote my current complete novel.  Of course, it took me another year and a half to make it readable, but I don’t think I would have ever gone back and fixed it up if I hadn’t had something finished to work with.  So, even though it’s not November, I’ve decided to take this same mentality on vacation with me.

I’d be interested to know what other people think of this method.  Is it better to carefully type out a decent first draft, and take a longer time with it, but have a lot less work to do on subsequent drafts? Or is it a good idea to write as fast and as furious as you can, ignoring  plot holes, bad dialogue, and character inconsistencies, to be fixed later? Since I don’t outline ahead of time, as mentioned previously, I feel like if I can just write fast enough and allow myself to be in the flow, the story that comes out will be better and more consistent then if I spend a lot of time perfecting words.  Everything else can be improved upon later, but I’m curious what other people think.  Happy writing!

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Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I tend to write a complete chapter out and then go back a day later and edit it. On the first write I just let go and get everything out and then on the edit I go back and scowl at the bad grammer and sentences and change everything I don’t like. I find this method works really well for me. My wife writes the entire piece out and then goes back and edits. She leaves in spelling mistakes, everything, aiming to get the story out first. I think it is down to what suits you, I would feel intimidated with an entire story to edit.

    • Thanks, Trent! I think it’s interesting how everyone writes so differently. I’ve found that my first draft vs. later drafts is so different, that I think going back each chapter wouldn’t work out for me because there would be a good chance I would be cutting that chapter anyways. But I feel like I write really sloppily to start with, and then slowly zero in on the real story hidden among all the slush. I think a lot of people write a more precise first draft, in which case editing as they go along would work out better.

  2. I used the elephant carving method. (Take a block of wood and carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.)

    It took ten years, but my story, “The Mandolin Case,” is now due out in a few weeks. I hope it looks like a book.

    Dr. B

    • I love that analogy! And congratulations on getting your story out there! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it–I hope someday I’ll be there, too. 🙂

  3. Somewhere in the middle. I can spellcheck edit in a draft without it bothering me terribly (it’s more irritating to leave it there.) But some people in NaNoWriMo take the whole “bad first draft” to a new level – not that their drafts personally are bad, not throwing stones here, I’ve never read another WriMo’s novel. I mean things like throwing in things from the dare forums and such just for the sake of doing them. (How many people wound up filling the White House with Jell-o in the end?) I’m sure it works for some people but I don’t see a point in spending November or any other length of time for writing a whole novel draft if you’re not going to have something editable at the end. At least not it publishing is your goal.
    Make sense? I think partly it depends on your personality, but I think for the majority it falls inbetween creating a first draft worth and capable of taking an edit, and letting go of perfectionism to get the story down.

    Have you read Jody Hedlund’s kinda-recent post on editing? If you’re going to do the big macro edits first it makes it a little easier to not worry about a few sloppy sentences here and there: http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/2010/04/three-simple-stages-of-self-editing.html

    • I haven’t read her post yet, but I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion! And I agree with you–if you’re writing just for the fun of writing, then doing strange things to boost your word count is perfectly fine. But if you’re writing with the eventual goal of having something publishable, it seems counterproductive to add in things that you know you’re going to have to cut.

      For my novel, I’ll sometimes change my mind about how I want a certain character to be, or how a situation should have been resolved, but rather than backtracking to fix it right away, I’ll wait until the draft is finished, and then go back through it. But I definitely see your point!


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