If You’re a Writer, You’re Probably Making This Mistake

Rewriting. As writers we tend to get hung up on getting it right the first time, simply put. In fact, if you’re rewriting your opening chapter for the tenth time in the last three months, you need to do something: Go to the nearest ice cream store and treat yourself.

Seriously, get the biggest chocolate Sundae you can and gorge.

When you’re done with it, ask yourself, “Do I want another?”

As much as you loved it, you probably don’t want to subject yourself to an even bigger stomachache.

It’s the same thing with rewriting the first part of your book. Why go back and write it over and over? You’re going to get so sick of it that you’ll lose focus and before you know it, a year’s gone by and you’re lucky to be halfway done with your novel.

Write it all out from point A to point Z first (or point A to L to B to Y to 3 to Q, however you write). Because you’re going to do something to the book halfway through that’s going to require some changes be made to the beginning anyway.

And at that point you’ll really be pissed because you would have spent all that time polishing your opening up to perfection.

Don’t worry about getting it right until it’s done. 

Then and only then can you stand back and look at your project as a whole and determine where the changes need to be made.

Also, by rewriting the same thing repetitively, you’re not learning and growing. And without learning and growing, there’s no room or chance for improvement. Instead, you’re the Griswolds in European Vacation circling around the roundabout. You’re essentially just moving words around.

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My wife stopped reading one of my manuscripts years ago because she said, “I can’t remember which version is which.”

It’s imperative that you write something to completion so that you can experience and learn about the writing process as a whole. What good is mastering the opening if the rest of your book sucks? You’ve got to train yourself and put yourself through the dreary middle and perfect the ending.

You’ve got to learn to pace the action, keep the pages turning, and learn how to find the answers when you’ve written yourself into a corner. Circling the roundabout, you’ll never discover new streets or actually get anywhere.

Write that book to completion. Take it all the way through, even if your opening is weak. The trick is, having confidence that it’s not so weak that it’s a hopeless cause.

And by God, that is a trick! So good luck with that one! Just kidding, I’ll address that later.

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About Andrew Toy
I'm in the beginning stages of starting my own publishing company that's unlike anything you've ever heard of in the industry. The direction of AdoptingJames is taking a 90-degree turn and will be more writing/publishing-focused. Stay tuned for huge updates and exciting news!

20 Responses to If You’re a Writer, You’re Probably Making This Mistake

  1. aresonantone says:

    On my 7th edit, I said “ENOUGH!” At that point I was second guessing myself and hemming and hawing over word choice and playing ‘hunt the comma’. I kept remembering the professor that Donald Sutherland played in Animal House where he talks about how teaching was a gig to do till his book was published. He was asked

    “How long you been writing it?” His answer?
    “Four years… It’s s***.”

    At some point you must stop canoodling with your words and put that little stinker to work. Thanks for the great reminder that at some point, put the book to bed, take a break and start the next one.

    Holiday Ro-OH-oh-oh-oh-oh-OH-oh-oh-od….

  2. CJ Hammond says:

    Well said, Andrew!

  3. Definitely necessary to keep in mind. I always had the problem of trying to make my outline as complete as possible so I could just write, write, write. But if I spent too much time on it, I’d look at it and go “okay, so the story’s right there, already written, but needs to be in actual readable English now.” Then i’d let it sit there and do something else, because all the work went in too early.
    I’m picking up my pen again today after a 2-3 month hiatus where that exact thing happened, and going to examine what I’ve written and make notes on what inspired me to write the story…and it will include lots of daydreaming and playing the stories in my head to really get it right…and tea to help! You can’t make it perfect at the start, it has to flesh out and find its own way.

  4. I’ve made a vow to myself now to just write straight through the first draft, good or bad. Power through the bits that fill like treacle, and be liberal with my square bracket [something something something] fillers.

    The inspiration will come. It might come on the fourth or fifth draft, but it will come.

    For my first Endever book, just as I was about to send it off to you guys I noticed a paragraph at the end (in Clara’s office — you’ll know it when you see it) which simply read: [insert pertinent description here]. That was a hangover from the SECOND DRAFT. And do you know, inspiration struck me right there, as I was about to send it off to my publisher.

    So, you know … just write it already!

  5. rtimmorris says:

    My writing evolves a little differently with each project. I’m at the point now where I feel like my best route is to outline heavily enough that I can just drop in at any point in the story and write the parts my heart is feeling the strongest towards. There is no A-to-Z, only jumping around madly with purpose.
    I still have the habit of working very slowly because I’m editing at the same time (yes, I do what your post is telling me not to do), but at this point I’ve given up trying to break the habit and I’ve acknowledged that it’s just “my style”. Just go with what works, right?

    • Andrew Toy says:

      You said it! For the longest time I thought it was my style, too, but it can’t be my style if I’m not progressing and growing. Hell, I don’t care if getting naked and swimming in a pool of worms is someone’s style, as long as that’s what brings about progress and growth. Those are the essentials we’re after.

  6. I can relate as I have done this in the past and you are exactly right. I lost focus and walked away from it only to return a few years later to give it another shot. I still tweak things here and there and if I look back to the beginning, I would say that I have seen progress in the way I write. I know this could have not been possible have I been so consumed with re writing the first chapter. Thank you very much, it’s good to know I wasn’t the only one struggling with this 😉 Great insight.

  7. Agreed.
    I became obsessed with chapter one. Although my first draft was complete, I kept going back over it, or presenting it to critique groups. I knew it read well as a chapter, but not as a first chapter. After reading some blogs, I stumbled upon “Hooked” by Les Edgerton.
    Chapter 1 is now done and the manuscript is 25% complete for beta readers.

  8. Pingback: this is it! | Of Thoughts & Paper

  9. Marie says:

    Andrew thank you for this! This was so needed I can’t tell you how many times I have went back and started over… Here it is a year later lol I will be taking your advice and sharing this post also.

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