I am of the opinion that it usually pays to get something-anything on the page and to try and revise later, on the grounds that it’s much easier to revise and polish than to conjure out of thin air.
But there is a very real potential dark side of exercises like NaNoWriMo where you push forward at all costs Namely, that it leads you to abandon self-editing in the name of racking up words.
Some people actually need to shut off the self-editing switch because it’s easy to fall in a state of paralysis when trying to write a polished final draft on the very first try. Letting go and just letting the words flow can be freeing.
But abandon all hope ye who completely abandon self-editing. And there’s a very simple reason for this: problems can snowball. A problem that is brushed over in the first few chapters can progress from there and worm its way through the novel in such a way that it can become very very difficult to fix later on. You can’t build a house on a creaky foundation.
It is definitely good to get words on the page, provided overall things are working. And how do you know if things are working overall?
It’s tough for everyone to be a self-aware writer and to spot your own flaws. But stopping, thinking, trying to imagine yourself as a reader, remembering the writing advice you know, and asking yourself very honestly, “Is this working?” is absolutely crucial.
And chances are you know when things aren’t working. There will be a quiet, tiny nagging voice that you’re shutting off or deciding not to worry about for now. It usually manifests itself as a sneaking suspicion.
Listen to The Voice, which speaks quietly and almost imperceptibly. The Voice sounds way more like, “Um…Hi! So sorry to bug you, I mean, only if you want to listen, but um, well, are you sure about the cow aliens? I can wait…” than “Duh! Wake up, this is wrong!”
If only The Voice were more assertive.
So yes. Get those words down, keep on plugging away. But don’t stop editing as you go. And listen to The Voice.
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Art: A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch by Henriette Browne