On writing fast, writing well

I’ve given myself three challenges since I started this blog, two of which I succeeded at, and one of which I failed. Today I realized another difference between them: while the first two were editing challenges, the latest one was a writing challenge. It was also the one I enjoyed the least,

To me there’s a major difference between writing and editing. Writing is the fun part, where the artist in me gets to play around and do all the fun creative stuff I so enjoy. The first draft is always the worst, but in many ways it’s the most fun because I’m still figuring out the story myself.

Editing is work. It’s not bad work, I don’t grumble too much when I’m doing it, but it’s still work. Editing is what separates a mediocre writer – or perhaps a good writer who never finishes – from those who can go further, because it’s in editing where a story is fixed, tweaked, refined, and polished into something fit for human consumption. It’s still work though, and not nearly so fun as playing around.

The difference between writing and editing speaks to why my previous challenges worked so well, while this one felt so onerous. When I was faced with work (editing), I was grateful for the extra incentive because it kept me from slacking off. But when I was faced with fun (writing), I resented the deadline. It squashed my creativity, stopped me from considering other possibilities, and turned what was usually fun into work.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo. Understand that I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not for me. I don’t have a problem writing or plotting out a story, and I will finish what I start; it’s writing a good story that concerns me, something breakneck speed is not conducive towards. When the pressure is on you can’t sit back and ruminate, you can’t turn back and rewrite, and you can’t junk entire tracts of story when you realize they’re not working. No, you have to keep running, lest the deadline’s whips find you.

Also, that’s not even taking into account the fact that difficult quotas are ineffective and demotivational for most people. But that’s another post.

I think when it comes to fiction some urgency is needed, otherwise the work will never get finished and you’ll never be able to read it. Creativity actually can be rushed, and sometimes it needs to be. It needs to be rushed later in the process though. Early on and it threatens to destroy the reason I enjoy writing at all.

P.S. As for this latest short story, even though it was rushed I think it turned out well. I won’t really know until I go back and edit it though. After all, that’s where the real work begins.

8 thoughts on “On writing fast, writing well

  1. Pretty confusing way to write it. xd Half way through I was like “What? Why you enjoy writing more and also enjoyed the challenge involving it the least”. But i get your point. If you are forced to have fun it’s not fun any more.

    Thanks for the answer (about your novel genres). Now I’m curious what kind of narrative style you use when you write a novel and what general structure it has. Well, I won’t force everything out of you. I will probably see it by myself one day. Hopefully.

    • Ahaha, I apologize if it was confusing. I meant it to be somewhat paradoxical, but I also wrote it at like 4 in the morning and edited it the NEXT four in the morning, so perhaps a bit rough : ) It would be more accurate to say that I appreciated the editing challenges rather than actually liked them – work is work, so being forced to work isn’t particularly fun, but I liked that it compelled me to stop being a slackass. Not quite so on the writing challenge.

      As for your other question, you’ll have to wait and see on technical questions like that. You can get a lot out of me talking about my story, characters, emotions, themes, things like that – probably more when you know what they are mind you, haha – but technical writer mumbo jumbo doesn’t light my world on fire. I think some writers focus too much on that junk when they should focus on the feeling, so that’s where I put my effort. I’m a storytelling nerd I guess : )

  2. Although I agree that doing creative work under time pressure can be counter productive, time-constraint is actually what some people need to do something and actually finish it. Or maybe it is just me.

    I work as an art director with writing as a hobby, and there is a significant difference in how diligent I could be towards those two roles. When there is an actual deadline, I know I have to get my shit together and make the magic happens no matter how impossible it could seem. On the other hand, when I set the ‘deadline’ myself, I can’t really get things done since I know that I can extend the deadline forever if I want to. Frankly, I am a lazy ass when I am my own client.

    Speed writing can be good to actually getting something done. Even though it might not be that great, at least you will have something to work on from there.

    • I have the same kind of personality by nature, that Type B I-need-a-deadline-to-get-things-done sort, but I’ve noticed that the difference in quality between rushed, deadline work and the stuff I’m really proud of is huge. I don’t mind leaning on the deadline at work because I’m honestly not much invested in the end product, but for my writing?

      No, no. The deadline can be useful, but not when it means I’m putting out B- work when I could be giving you A to A+. It takes willpower, prioritizing, and a few little tricks to make getting started easier, but once it becomes a habit to work without a deadline the output really benefits from it.

  3. Stilts,
    I’m a relatively young writer who has done NaNoWriMo for three years now. It never occurred to me that I might be squashing my ideas due to time restraints! I thank you for sharing your opinions, I found a lot of your thoughts really helpfull to contemplate when writing my own pieces. It’s hard to write with deadlines and it makes it very hard to enjoy writing if you are “forcing” it. At the same time, with deadlines, forcing pieces (or parts of them), makes the writer come up with interesting ideas that wouldn’t be present in the novel otherwise. I plan on keeping an eye on your blog, your ideas are a spark that’s helping get my ideas circling in ways that I’d never thought about.
    Thanks again,
    -a young teen writer

    • It’s true that you may come up with great ideas you wouldn’t have had otherwise thanks to a deadline, but isn’t it also true that you could have thought up even better ideas if you gave yourself more breathing room? You can’t prove a negative, but I don’t think creativity benefits from forcing it, and I know that the more time I spend living with a story, the better it becomes.

  4. quite funny I read it now, after your last post about feedback.
    editing is somehow related to feedback. “feedbacking” your own.
    there is a mix of emotions one is experiencing in the process of editing. of course, mostly, the more you do it, you are more skilled and gets to know yourself. but we also should stay focus on the purpose here. what we edit for?as you’ve said – fixing, polishing, refining and so. namely, besides the criticized eye we bring as we edit, we also partly do the writing process again, however we are not in the process of writing completely, we are somewhat “distracted” due to the editing process. it consumes much more attention.

    sometimes editing can be really a hindrance. a lot just pops through your mind and you start change or doubt things. when you notice you are already losing your touch and spreading too much, relax a bit.

    • A good point, to relax when that happens. I don’t think of editing as a hindrance though. In fact, I feel like rewriting and editing are far more than the initial draft. It’s easy to get an idea and hard to write a first draft, but to persevere through the second, third, fourth and more drafts, to constantly tweak and refine and pare down and improve…

      Well, that’s what separates the professionals from the hobbyists. Nothing wrong with either, but I intend to be one of the former, so I’d best learn to love the edit.

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