annie sisk : where annie writes

the eternal debate: finish the first draft or revise as you go?

It’s an argument that’s raged for – well, I don’t know, really. Maybe it’s not so much a raging argument as my own personal struggle, but I suspect other writers have struggled with it, too.

The question seems simple enough: Should you finish your first draft, and then revise? Or should you revise as you go?

Hand on top of papers

The arguments in favor of finishing the “shitty first draft” before tackling revisions are well known and numerous. And they make sense to me:

  1. You get the psychological boost of finishing before you tackle the time-consuming task of revisions.
  2. You see the work as a whole before you start fixing things, which helps you fashion a better book.
  3. Revising and writing are two completely different skillsets and tasks, requiring very different psychological mindsets.
  4. Hopping back and forth between writing and revising just wastes a writer’s precious time.

And I bought this viewpoint lock, stock and barrel.

But I found it really hard to resist revising. Particularly with one novel – Coven of the Moons – I found myself feeling increasingly anxious about not fixing some obvious problems in the beginning chapters of the novel. I kept telling myself “chill out, you can fix them later.” But my inner worry-wart only responded “it’ll be ten times harder to fix then!”

And I never finished a single draft.

It’s true. I have no fewer than six works in varying stages of progress on my hard drive, the oldest dating back ten years.

That’s gonna change in 2014, I’ve determined (I am determined).

So I set out to stop reading and writing about writing, and to start – y’know, writing. And I held that intention in mind throughout all my end-of-year planning in December 2013.

I will finish the first draft then revise.

But then – old habits die hard, don’t they? – I felt compelled to read Nathan Bransford’s book, How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever.

And I am so glad I did – for many reasons. Seriously, if you’re in my boat – desperately wanting to write a novel but struggling for any reason – pick this one up. Put down all the others, and read this one. Then write.

But one of the biggest surprises this book held for me was its unique take on the “finish the first draft first” “rule.”

Essentially, Nathan argued that sometimes it was smarter to revise as you go – for the very reason that my inner worry-wart kept repeating.

It’s harder to fix some plot problems after the draft is finished. Sometimes, the problems and their solutions have far-reaching implications that echo throughout the draft. If you finish the draft first, then fix the problem, you’ve got exponentially more sections to fix as a result.

But if you’d fixed the problem in the middle of the writing process, you might have cut your problems in half or better.

So this time, I’m taking Nathan’s advice. I’m going to fix the issues that have been bugging me and then finish the draft.

We’ll see how that goes!

photo credit: Auntie P via photopin cc



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