Musings on 1st Drafts and Editing

I have a Writer's Page on  Facebook, where I post whatever progress I made on my writing.  So the other day I looked at several of my recent entries where I talk about how much progress I was making.  I was counting how many words per day I had written and this sounded really good.  But when I went back to the novel itself it felt like I hadn't made a lot of progress after all.  This puzzled me exceedingly so I started to think about it.  As I did so my eyes focused on the novel in progress and I spotted several areas where I needed to fix a problem.  That's when I had a "Light Bulb Moment", I was editing while I was still creating the first draft.  Not a bad thing in and of itself, but I had been doing this almost constantly.  Each day I'd go back to see what I had done when I left off in order to recapture the mood and the moment and I wound up doing bunch of 'repairs' before moving on. 

Now don't get me wrong, it's important to make sure the story is working and making sense, but there is such a thing as overdoing it.  If you spend more time trying to edit and perfect your 1st draft you may never finish the bugger at all!  The more heavy editing should be reserved for your 2nd, 3rd and further drafts.  We must never forget that in order to have a story you have to finish it at least once. This is where I've been having problems with my 2nd novel.  I know where I want it to go but I still have to get the characters and the action to that point at the finish.

I'll be the first to admit that a certain amount of editing is needed even while making the 1st draft of your novel  to keep you from going totally NUTS when you do the revisions and rewrites.  If I had used a little more restraint like this on my first novel "The Bridge", I wouldn't have wound up with a 1st draft that was 198,000 word long.  I did 8 more drafts to cut it down to 99,000 words in the end.  Entire scenes were cut or reduced to keep it under 100,000 words (a size preferred by most agents and publishers who are dealing with a brand new author who has never been published before).  Believe me, there were times I thought I'd never find a way to make the shorter version work, but I did.

So now I'm on novels 2 and 3.  I am keeping an eye on my word count to keep it no more than 140,000 words.  Much easier to cut down to size when the time comes.  And it certainly beats sobbing in the corner screaming "I CAN'T DO THIS, IT'S TOO HARD!". 

So doing some editing as you write your 1st draft is fine.  But don't let it get in the way of you finishing the story.  You would not believe the number of friends who've told me "Oh I've been working on a story for a couple of years, but I just never seem to get it finished.  I work on it and work on it but I just never get to the end..."  Sound familiar? Of course the 1st draft isn't going to be exactly what you had planned, that is what revisions and rewrites are for.  And keep in mind that even after you get your the final draft finished, an agent or publisher is going to ask for changes or make suggestions before it ever sees print.  So finish the story at least once.  The final product will be spit and polished in due time, but you got to have at least one completed draft to give it a place to start.


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