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  • How Do I...?
    by MariaH at 17:42 on 29 June 2013
    Does anybody know how I can STOP constantly editing my work as I'm in the middle of writing it? I never used to, but for the last couple of years I've got into the habit of rewriting/checking facts on the internet/checking a particular word is suitable/playing around with one or two sentences etc It drives me crazy and really slows me down, but it's like a bad habit I can't break.

    I know someone will probably suggest trying the NaNoWriMo method, but I don't want to write lengthy passages.

    Is there an easier way...?
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by Pen and Ink at 18:20 on 29 June 2013
    I wish I could help you but I'm the same and it drives me mad too!
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by EmmaD at 18:27 on 29 June 2013
    Well it's not necessarily a bad habit - I know lots of terrific writers who write that way.

    The drawback is that the first draft takes longer, and it's possible that in that you'll find you did loads of work on research and re-writing which gets binned. Plus, it's very easy to lose your sight of and feel for the big architecture of the overall story. (The other drawback is simply that once you're on the internet, you may find you've just spent half an hour on facebook)

    The advantage is that it's (hopefully) much more developed than edited than if you're a shitty-first-draft merchant, and so there's not so much to do the far side of your official "I've finished the first draft". And, of course, if you've got the ground solid under your feet before you move on, then it may be true that you're less likely to get to the end and find that actually, something major needs totally changing the whole way through.

    If you don't feel that this way is really right for you, you could try turning the computer off and writing longhand. If you write only on the RH side of the notebook, there's the LH side for making a note where you need research, or where you feel that something isn't as well-worked as it will need to be in the end. And then you type it up, and sort it out and deal with all those notes...

    It could be that because you're more experienced now, with more awareness of technical things and what can go wrong, you're feeling more self-conscious, more (paradoxically) inhibited about just hurling onto the page whatever your imagination and built-in sense of story serves up.

    I blogged about this issue here, which might help:

  • Re: How Do I...?
    by debac at 09:44 on 30 June 2013
    I know someone will probably suggest trying the NaNoWriMo method, but I don't want to write lengthy passages.

    Yes, that was my first thought, because it freed me up, and that feeling has stayed ever since (about 3 years now, and continuing).

    I'm not sure what you mean about not wanting to write "lengthy passages"? Can you clarify? Hard to suggest a solution without understanding what you mean there.

  • Re: How Do I...?
    by AlanH at 13:03 on 30 June 2013
    Does anybody know how I can STOP constantly editing my work as I'm in the middle of writing it?

    So, you think it's a bad way of writing? I do the same, and couldn't write the 'other' freer way because I would feel my new passages weren't grounded. I have to feel that everything new I write has a logical base, and that can only come through constantly refining what I've already done.

    I realise the method doesn't suit everyone, but this is the way I like to work and I see no reason to change.

    This is no help to you, is it?

  • Re: How Do I...?
    by MariaH at 18:04 on 30 June 2013
    Thanks for your replies. It's great to know that I'm not the only one who writes this way. Paradoxically, the suggestion that it's "not necessarily a bad habit" has made me feel much more relaxed about what I was beginning to think must be a major problem.

    Emma, I found your friend's experience very enlightening and will try a couple of those methods.

    I'm not sure what you mean about not wanting to write "lengthy passages"? Can you clarify? Hard to suggest a solution without understanding what you mean there.

    Sorry, Deb, that was a clumsy way of saying I didn't want to write a novel, just to try a quicker way of writing a short piece.

    Thanks, too, for your comments, Julia and Alan. Lovely to realise there are more of us shuffling leisurely along at our own pace!
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by Terry Edge at 10:22 on 01 July 2013
    I suggest the first thing to do is rid your subconscious (never an easy task!) of the ingrained conditioning we all have that lots of re-writing is the correct way to write. It might be the correct way for you, but you probably won't know until you can re-programme yourself that in fact some writers work better when trying to hit it right first time.

    It could be that constantly stopping, checking, re-starting may be the natural way for you to write but the fact you've raised it indicates you're not sure.

    Some exercises that might work (all things I've done and found effective):

    Write a poem a day where your intention is to grab on to a feeling, thought, reflection and nail it immediately with exactly the right words.

    Set the clock for ten minutes then start writing and don't stop - no matter what!

    Every day (for a year is best, even longer if you can) write an A4 page (exactly - part of the shaping discipline) where you take a thought or event or an issue (from what's in the news or in your life) and write about it, with the intention of letting it find its own direction but in such a way that it will be interesting to read for someone other than you. It will take about a year before you 'get' it but then, believe me, you'll find it much easier to capture your creative thought/feeling and express it quickly and accurately in writing.

    Write some flash fiction (after you've been doing the poems for a while) where you try to capture a feeling/thought/vision/concept, now in a piece of structured prose. If you're interested, here's a flash piece I did exactly as that kind of exercise, which I actually managed to sell to one of the top flash markets: http://www.flashfictiononline.com/f20110303-whole-of-the-brush-t-d-edge.html
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by debac at 18:32 on 01 July 2013
    When I wrote more short stories, Maria, I used to think of the process like a patchwork quilt. An idea would come to me, and some fragments of conversation or description. I'd scribble them down. Then some more ideas would come to me and they'd get scribbled. Then I'd sit down and try to write the bulk of it in first draft. Then some more ideas or fragments would come to me. Eventually it ended up as a series of bits of longhand on different sized bits of paper (and often the backs of tissue boxes, which I am always scribbling on), and I would cobble it together and put into the computer. Then I would edit and polish, edit and polish till the seams were invisible.

    I'm not saying you should do it like that, but if you do want to try a different method from your current, fastidious one, you could give mine a go? See if it works for you?

  • Re: How Do I...?
    by MariaH at 23:28 on 01 July 2013
    Hi Terry, thanks for your suggestions. Might be a bit too pushed for time to try the A4 exercise, but the 10-minute poems seem a good idea, especially as I know I can't write poetry so wouldn't feel under too much pressure!

    I read your flash fiction story, loved the surprise ending. I was amused to read in your bio about the Cadbury's choc comps. We used to have those in school every Easter (I think it was just regional when our school entered) and I looked forward to my choccy prize every Easter!

    Thanks, Deb. Sometimes I've worked like that when I'm actually in the middle of writing, with fragments here and there. Then begun to worry about why am I writing in fragments and think I must try and perfect them there and then...! It's probably a much better idea to write it down somewhere the random moment the lines enter my head (usually when I'm in the middle of doing something else) as it's so easy to lose the idea again.
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by debac at 08:51 on 02 July 2013
    Yes indeed! Sometimes those exact phrases will never come to you again, and the ones that come from deep down in your inspiration pit are often the best. Even if they get changed, they are still strong on inspiration.

    I don't think there's any harm in writing in fragments.

    As for NaNoWriMo, perhaps you could make up your own challenge. For instance, if your average short story is 2000 words, you could try to write 25 of them in November, making a total of 50k words to fit the challenge. I really think the freeing nature of it would help you loosen up and not worry about quality on your first drafts.

    If you managed to do that challenge, even if you didn't make the 50k (which doesn't really matter... it's the trying that matters) then you'd have 20 ish raw stories ready to edit and turn into something great.

    From what you say, I get the impression that what you're really suffering from is fear. Fear of not writing perfect sentences... of not getting it right. My advice is to overcome that fear somehow, and it will change your way of writing forever. That's what happened to me, anyway. I've never looked back after losing my fear.


    Edited by debac at 08:53:00 on 02 July 2013
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by Terry Edge at 09:21 on 02 July 2013
    I read your flash fiction story, loved the surprise ending. I was amused to read in your bio about the Cadbury's choc comps. We used to have those in school every Easter (I think it was just regional when our school entered) and I looked forward to my choccy prize every Easter!

    Glad you liked the story. I pinched the ending from a story Joni Mitchell told, of her seeing Picasso when very old on French TV. This brash young interviewer stuck a piece of paper in front of Picasso and demanded he draw something. Picasso did and handed back. The young guy said, "I could sell this for thousands but it only took you 20 secs." And Picasso said, "No, it took 80 years."

    I didn't realise when I posted the link to the story but actually signwriting may be analogous to what we're discussing. I used to be a signwriter and it's true that you can't paint letters by lots of little stabs and 're-writes' - you have to confidently use the whole of the brush in one sweeping movement.

    Edited by Terry Edge at 09:22:00 on 02 July 2013
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by Catkin at 10:25 on 02 July 2013
    They look like good exercises, Terry. Thanks for posting.

    I like the flash. “Hello, Paul,” he said, “what’s the problem this time?” - great line!
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by calliaphone at 17:37 on 02 July 2013
    Hi MariaH, I write like this sometimes too. When it works, it's great, and makes me happy. When it gets in my way, I get very frustrated. Eventually, when I'm done calling myself names (which doesn't help at all, by the way), I start looking for ways to break the cycle. I've tried all sorts of things - some of which have been mentioned by others already. Here is a list of my favourites (not in order of preference):

    1) Typing with my eyes closed. Requires some touch-typing ability, and even then can result in some interesting gobbledegook. But in a way, that's the point. Plus, surprises are fun!

    2) In a similar vein, typing into a text window that I've resized so that I can only see a line or two of text at a time - it focuses me on what's happening at the fingertips, not on the page.

    3) Following on from that, there are a number of distraction-free writing environments about, like http://jjafuller.com/dark-room/ (or the original Mac version, Write Room). I like dark-room for the green screen mode. Writing there had an otherworldly feel to it, as if I wasn't writing so much as playing a text adventure game. If felt like the words I was typing were already there, and my keystrokes were simply uncovering them. I found myself writing as if I was a puppet-master, telling myself what I saw! Weird experience, but fun. And when I'm having fun, I forget to obsess, which helps the flow.

    4) Writing with a pen and paper, like Emma Darwin suggested (although the bit about keeping one side of the book for notes is something I've never tried before. Love the sound of that!)

    5) Writing flash fiction, as Terry Edge suggested. In particular, I find it helpful to use rapid-turnover contests and challenges, because it motivates me to turn out a "finished" piece to a tight deadline. I'm liking http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/ for this, at the moment. They do a new challenge every week (posted on Mondays, closes Fridays), and another for the weekend.

    6) Again, like Terry said, short bursts of timed writing - it's amazing what can happen in just 2 minutes if you're really going for it, with a clock ticking. And after a few sessions of that, it can be a relief to let yourself keep going for a whole 5 minutes, or even 10 or 15. http://www.fifteenminutesoffiction.com is quite fun for this - they'll give you a prompt, and a countdown timer, and off you go.

    7) If you're not keen on NaNoWriMo because it's all about turning out a novel-sized piece of work, have a look at http://www.750words.com. Not free to sign up anymore, alas, but I love it so much I consider it worth the subscription. You write in private there, and it times you, and keeps a word-count for you, and saves your writing as you go (yes, there's an export facility although it's not very good at the moment. But take care writing at midnight, as the auto-save stops when the calendar flips over to the next day). When you get to 750 words, you get a nice green "well done" thingy pop up, and it keeps track of how many days in a row you've written (plus tons of other stats if you're that way inclined ... I'm not so much, but the graphs are pretty).

    There is also a highly complicated points system which I still don't understand, but even so I found myself trying to score as many points as possible because ... badges! Which I didn't even know I wanted till I started getting them (they have no value other than "woo-hoo, I got a unicorn, wait, what?"). And the day I discovered that you get more points if you complete your session without pausing for more than 3 minutes? That was a good day. Quite suddenly, I sped up. Without meaning to, I started sitting down to write, *intending* and *expecting* to write fast and without stopping. I would make sure that I was likely to get a half-hour without interruptions (which is about how long it takes me to 750 words if I'm just trying to write any old thing, and am not stopping to gaze into my navel every other sentence), and I would not check my email until I was finished. I would snarl at anyone who dared to offer me a cup of tea before I'd reached the hallowed 750. It wasn't long before the habit was becoming ingrained, helped by the desire to maintain my "writing streak". This is probably the one thing, more than any other, which got me past the place where I was stuck last year, taking 3 hours to write a couple of sentences.

    8) Alternatively, there's http://www.writeordie.com - which doesn't do all the stats like 750words.com, but is good for getting the adrenaline going and the fingers flying. I haven't used it in a while, but I think you set your target and get going, and if you pause for too long it starts nudging you, and depending on your settings, may begin to eat your words. (And if you prefer a fluffier approach, http://writtenkitten.net/ is a similar concept, which shows you a picture of kittens every time you turn out 100 words!)

    Hope some of these ideas work for you

    Edited by calliaphone at 17:47:00 on 02 July 2013

    Edited by calliaphone at 17:48:00 on 02 July 2013
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by EmmaD at 18:08 on 02 July 2013
    Fantastic ideas from Calliaphone

    1) Typing with my eyes closed. Requires some touch-typing ability, and even then can result in some interesting gobbledegook. But in a way, that's the point. Plus, surprises are fun!

    Or turn the monitor off? I know a couple of writers who do this for free-writing, rather than doing it longhand as most of us do.

    Talking of which, free-writing is a very good way to remind your brain how to let go. Apologies for the cut-and-paste, because I'm pushed for time, but here's something I posted elsewhere:

    To quote a terrific piece on it here:


    this is what you do:

    The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can't think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write "I can't think what to say, I can't think what to say" as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop. ...

    and this is why you do it:

    ... think for a moment about the occasions when you spoke well. Seldom was it because you first got the beginning right. Usually it was a matter of a halting or even a garbled beginning, but you kept going and your speech finally became coherent and even powerful. There is a lesson here for writing: trying to get the beginning just right is a formula for failure--and probably a secret tactic to make yourself give up writing. Make some words, whatever they are, and then grab hold of that line and reel in as hard as you can. Afterwards you can throw away lousy beginnings and make new ones. This is the quickest way to get into good writing.

    It's also an excellent way of exploring a particular character or situation in your novel, by setting your creative brain loose to send up whatever it knows: once you've learnt to switch your brain to "un-censor" in your head, it's easy to bring that character or situation into focus, flip the switch, and see what pours out of your pen.
  • Re: How Do I...?
    by MariaH at 19:47 on 04 July 2013
    Hi,thanks for all your replies. I've certainly begun with the 10-minute poetry one. Though I'm still finding it hard to get out of checking in the middle of writing I managed to resist and have written three poems in three days so far. I know that's not much, but out of little acorns...

    I'll try freewriting for a longer time next week and build on that. I also quite like the idea of turning the monitor off so I can't even see the screen!

    Sorry to be lax in replying, just real life getting in the way as usual!
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