I just turned in the next draft of Juliet’s School of Possibilities last week. I wrote the manuscript of this time management novella (out March 12, 2019!) in about three weeks during November 2017. I spent the next three weeks editing intensely. I turned it in and got the nod in January.
Then, between January and July, I went through many more rounds of edits. I think in this last one, I solved the issues that had been bugging me. I also found a few more ways to economize on language. The goal is to get a lot done in 21,000 words.
It seems strange to spend a mere three weeks writing a draft, and then 6-plus months editing, but I think there’s a lot to be said for this pace of writing fast and editing slow.
When you write fast, you just get it down. You let the momentum of seeing words add up push you forward. You turn off the inner critic because you’re not trying to create a perfect manuscript, if such a thing is even possible (it isn’t). This is the beauty of the National Novel Writing Month concept, when thousands of people cheer each other on as they attempt to write 50,000 word manuscripts in the 30 days of November. Because you know such a novel can’t be perfect, you don’t hold that up as a goal. Your goal is simply being done. You allow yourself to believe that done is better than perfect because there is no perfect without being done.
But then, you keep coming back to it. I truly believe it is easier to turn something into something better than to turn nothing into something. Writing quickly means you have lots of time to edit. You can think about your story in the back of your head while you aren’t writing. You can see big problems in the first round of edits and fix them. Then you can wait a few weeks and fix the next problems. Then maybe you can start showing the draft to other people and getting their feedback. You can incorporate their feedback (or not) and try again.
By the seventh or eighth time through you’re fixing the things that bugged you a bit at the beginning but you weren’t sure why. And you’re noticing that you used a similar word three paragraphs before and it might behoove you to find a different word the next time.
I love this phrase I heard once in a creative writing class in college: a poem is never finished, it is only abandoned.* Same with any sort of writing. In my experience, writing fast and then editing slow is the best way to move as close as possible toward the ultimate vision. You never fully get there, because no one ever does, but writing fast and editing slow uses time as a tool, and gets the most leverage out of it.
Do you write fast and edit slow? I shared more advice like this in an article first-time book writer Olga Khazan penned for The Atlantic this week (called “How to write a book without losing your mind.”)
*This seems to be a paraphrase of a Paul Valery aphorism