The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Mid-Draft Editing

Climbing back on the writing horse has been difficult but I’ve gotten there over the last month. Back in college and then during my period of freelance work out in San Francisco I was regularly putting forward 3-4,000 words of writing on a daily basis while staying up on my chores and obligations. I made an effort to meet a certain word count per day knowing full well that a lot of those words would be complete garbage and I’d have to overhaul them, but the important part was that they were on the page giving me raw materials to work with when I had finished.

skelington
artist’s interpretation of my soul after an all-night outlining session

When I had finished. That’s the key phrase there. Those are the arc words for that portion of my life. I approached writing knowing that my stuff was going to be pretty miserable until I got around to making a few editorial passes or having someone else do so with me, and that was just part of the writing process.

I think that, looking back, the biggest stumbling block over the last few years was the perfectionism bubbling up. Perfectionism is fear, plain and simple. The fear that what you’re doing isn’t good enough and that you’re going to get mocked for it. The fear that you need to get it right early so that you can build on a stable foundation. You start to rationalize it to yourself that way, pretending that you aren’t going to have to go back over the entire document with a fine tooth comb. My rationalization was that I only had so many hours to write with the amount of overtime I was putting in at work and that my first draft needed to be as close to perfect as humanly possible.

What this meant in practice was stopping every few paragraphs to go back and tidy something up. During the course of that tidying I would notice something wrong with the next section, and fixing that meant that I had to go back and fix something else from earlier which changed my entire plot structure (for the better, I told myself) and completely killed my momentum.

I have made an effort to discard that bad habit and it’s already paying off. I’ve got very rough outlines for several short stories brewing and another compilation piece on the horizon, and more progress on a book than I’ve made in quite some time. Working on both projects has proven to be less of a pain than I originally anticipated, too – when I get completely drained on writing about a 1930s-esque fantasy setting built on alien necromancy, I can usually find energy to switch over to a shorter story about lake monsters slumbering in the midst of sleepy New England townships, or twisting Norse mythology into something more Lovecraftian in tone, or trying my hand at incredibly dated cyberpunk with an emphasis on biotech.

Better to end up with two thousand words in one story and two thousand in another than ending at two thousand and five hundred in one and no desire to touch anything else until tomorrow.

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4 thoughts on “The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Mid-Draft Editing

  1. ha! I’m following you anyway as I found your writing really interesting but the moment I’ve read the title I knew I was up for a wee treat 😀 I love “Dune” !
    this is exactely my problem damn it!
    not out of perfectionism but of chosen method (obviously wrong one)
    I’ve decided to write by hand as I prefer it this way but then got cought up in editing it when typeing it in on my computer and my little novel still didn’t make it through the first chapter
    thank you for this note; from now on, writing novel by hand and short stories go straight to laptop, yeyeyeee
    😀

    Like

    1. Ugh, god, I used to do that back when I briefly wrote on a typewriter and then transcribed. For really short stories it was nice to edit on the fly but anything larger just got scrambled to hell with nitpicking.

      Glad you like the blog though, Dune is one of the core SF/F series that form the basis for my life. Even the really weird sequels where Frank Herbert does a shitload of drugs and starts talking about the inherent self-destructive qualities of masculine energy and goes on 500 page spiels about subverting messianic religions by becoming a messiah and then destroying them from within.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yep, weird sequels too but not as much as first one!
        I love writing on typewriter, I have one as old as myself but it just takes too long to put thoughts on paper this way, prefered method is fountain pen and beautiful notebook (and I can take it with me everywhere and write down scenes and ideas)
        I just know now that I need to wait with transcribing until at least a chapter is finished… or whole first draft…

        Liked by 1 person

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