Creative Writing Tip: DON’T worry about cutting something later when you’re writing now

bookOne of the best pieces of writing advice I can give to any writer–aspiring author or experienced novelist–is one that others might not agree with. And the cool thing is, no one’s wrong: it kind of boils down to stylistic preference and how you, personally, prefer to embark upon the writing process.

Some people have no problem slaving away for hours and coming out with only 300 words to show for it: 300 really good, solid words they know will more or less make the final cut in that form. If this works for you, and helps you to feel accomplished–not frustrated, not doubtful of your abilities–then that’s great. Go for it and keep on keeping on. What matters is that you feel like you got something done and feel empowered to keep going.

That description, however, isn’t me. It isn’t me at all. I’m a panster: I write by the seat of my pants, and if I tried to ensure that the bulk of what I was putting on the page on any given day would end up in a final draft, I’d never get anything written. So my advice to fellow wordsmiths today is:

DON’T worry about what you might have to cut “tomorrow,” during editing, when you’re writing today. Just don’t. Don’t spare a thought for it.

Writing and editing are different processes completely. And that’s how it should be. Especially if you’re new to writing: try not to worry about editing things and cutting things and moving things around while you’re composing a first draft.

First of all, there’s a chance you’ll overwhelm yourself, and if there’s anything counterproductive to creativity and productivity, that’s it. Secondly, even if you end up cutting something, it’s not a waste. Believe me, it isn’t.

THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT BAD PASSAGES

Maybe you have an inkling that the scene you’re writing, or the last one you wrote, isn’t great. You might not keep it. You might consolidate it. You might do all kinds of things to it. That’s all okay.  Just keep writing (as Dory the fish’s writer alter ego would say). Remember:

  • Every sentence you put on that page is valuable experience to develop your skills, whether you keep it or not.
  • Maybe this “bad” scene, this “unnecessary” scene where the story’s concerned, is necessary for you. Maybe you need it to break through some walls and figure out what direction you truly need to go. Maybe some piece of it will inspire you to move toward something better.

Writing “throwaway” scenes can be a large part of the grunt work of writing a good novel. It can be frustrating, but hopefully it’ll be a bit less so when you realize it has a purpose. So when you feel like a scene you’re writing is going nowhere, don’t do this:

screaming

Keep at it. Remember, you can always improve or cut a scene that’s lacking. Above all, don’t let a scene that you feel is sub-par discourage you. Sure, you’ll have to do something about it. But you can do that, right? So you’re fine. Keep going, and just keep writing.

Every good novel starts with a horrible first draft. And if you stop writing because you’re judging the first-draft-in-progress to be horrible, you’ll never get a finished first draft you can do something with. (What makes a successful first draft? Find out here.)

So, I’m really, really curious to find out what you guys think! Do you agree with this or not? What’s your process? Feel free to comment!

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25 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: DON’T worry about cutting something later when you’re writing now

  1. I always remember the saying, “you can’t edit a blank page, so just write and fix it later. Works for me.

  2. I agree that you should get as much out as possible (“Just keep writing,” like you said) before you try to edit yourself. I have trouble keeping myself to this standard because I always want to stop and fix things, but I think we get infinitely more done when we try to just write for a while.

    Now I have Dory the fish’s voice stuck in my head…

    • oh wow! Sorry about Dory’s voice!!! But I totally agree with you. It’s really hard to just keep writing, but when I can make myself turn off the inner editor it makes a big difference.

      I just aim to do it to what extent I can at that moment and let things fall as they would 🙂

  3. I’m a pantser…. definitely. I write and write and write and let the words take the story where they will. Editing is something that happens once the story is down… if at all. I have trouble with editing because I’m a pantser. Because writing the story was a journey in its own right I have trouble making any major changes along that path…

    • that’s a different perspective from mine, so thanks so much for sharing!!! I’m a pantser too, but I find i HAVE to edit heavily. Most of the time I don’t know how things will end until they end. Then I realize I have to have some kind of lead-up and preparation for that end if it’s going to make sense. So I not only proofread and end up cutting a lot, I also have to add some things to make the novel cohesive.

      • I get that. Because I have no clear outline of any of the projects I’m working on, if I don’t see the end clearly enough with time left to properly build up to it then I can go back and add in and edit as needed… but, I still have a hard time taking things out… even if they no longer make sense. It was part of the story for a reason… if I could just figure out how to connect all the dots I know it could all still fit in… and if I change one thing, then how many other part of the story will I have to change, how much are they all tied together… It’s a struggle for sure. The funny part is I have no problem editing what other people write – I thoroughly enjoy it.

        • oh man, I hate cutting stuff from my drafts. I totally agree it’s easier to edit other people’s work. And I’m good at it, I find. Considering branching out into freelance editing.

  4. Non-pantsers have a strange misconception that there will be no second draft. There will be and there needs to be a second, third, and perhaps even fourth draft. My first draft is written with my heart, without stopping. I do the thinking on subsequent drafts but the more I write, the easier it becomes to retain the bulk of my first drafts. I definitely agree with djmatticus. The story will start writing itself if you trust it enough.

    • I agree with that as well, James! and I totally LOVE what you say about the first draft being from the heart, with the thinking later. That’s exactly how I function as a pantser! 🙂

  5. Food 4 The Soul 93

    Victoria, you and your commentators have a lot of good advise to consider here! As for myself, I believe the writing process depends on what kind of writer you are.

    I do informational articles, bios, “human interest” stuff, etc. That requires planning and editing through a lot of material before roughing something out. However, I do start often with an impact sentence or two and take direction from there. Soon, I’m skimming through research for this little quote or that bold statement to build in the next step.

    We use words as a carpenter uses tools. Writers tap on this word, or slide that thought backward, sanding and polishing the rough spots, and finally making our work ready for the finish coat. Each of us, however, seem to reach that final point in various different ways.

    It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Continued success…
    Skip 🙂 xo

  6. Thanks for sharing, Skip! Nonfiction writing is definitely a bit of a different process from what I do, though fiction can require its own kind of research. It’s definitely important to consider that…. thanks for pointing it out!!!

    I look back on my years as a grad student in the humanities, and I DEFINITELY prepped/outlined/researched a TON before doing any writing of the academic sort. It’s distinctly its own beast!

  7. toninelsonmeansbusiness

    I like your sentence: Every sentence you put on that page is valuable experience to develop your skills, whether you keep it or not. Great tip.

  8. That song is stuck in my head because of you!

    Seriously, ‘just keep swimming’ is good advice for all writers.

    • Didn’t mean to get Dory stuck in anyone’s head!!! Glad you agree with the advice, though. There are definitely times it’s a struggle to “just keep swimming” where the writing’s concerned for all of us….

  9. Pingback: Claudsy’s Blog—More Than a Challenge | Two Voices, One Song

  10. Sometimes I feel that I’m mentally writing and editing way too much so by the time I get in front of my laptop I’m writing what I already know and it can feel a bit mechanical.

    • I have to admit that doesn’t happen for me too often, not during the writing stage. More so during editing. But hmm…. at least you know what you need to be saying? I have to think that’s a plus. It does stink when writing turns mechanical, though.

  11. I agree, Victoria. To me, It’s the single most important idea if one wants to write professionally. You cannot re-write something you haven’t written yet. Writing is a process. each draft an achievement. each draft encompassing a step in the journey to the finished creation. A writer has to let the material breathe and grow, I’m a strong believer in per-writing, whatever form that takes. It’s the skeleton of a piece, but then you must allow the piece to develop and surprise you. The surprise that enters your scene today, might be the springboard for great things tomorrow. When you finish the rough draft then go back and see what you’ve created. I guarantee, some of the things that become essential are things you would have cut at the time you wrote them.

    • That’s all so true, Adam! I would never have thought to word things that nicely, though. “Some of the things that become essential are things you would have cut at the time you wrote them.” Unbelievably true!!!

  12. Even if my iPad doesn’t know how to spell “Pre-writing”? Lol

  13. People seem to assume that if you write very few words/very slowly, that they are quality, and that if you write high volume/very fast, that it is low quality and will need extensive rewriting and cutting. I have not found either to be the case. Same thing with assuming that pantsing will require extensive rewriting and cutting, and plotting will not. I don’t know. Maybe these scenarios are common, but they are certainly not the rule.

    • There are always exceptions to the “rule.” Every writer works differently. We all have our own unique and individual process. I have found that the one time I rushed my writing (during NaNoWriMo) I ended up with a mess, but lots of people have had different experiences. You’re very right: there are few, in any, hard and fast givens when it comes to writing.

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