I’ve joined the SF/F writers Facebook group, which has been an interesting, very positive experience. Lots of great ideas, suggestions and some great questions and discussions.
That said, one of the most common posts I read come from people who ask for suggestions on issues that, in the grand scheme of things, are quite minor — like word choice or some basic character issue.
These aren’t bad things to be focused on, but they reminded me of some of my early mistakes I made as a writer — getting bogged down by the small stuff.
I’ve touched on this issue before, but think it’s worth expounding on. The first few times I attempted a book, I’d always make some great progress on the first 50 or 100 pages — and then things would start to grind to a halt. I’d reread what I had written over and over again — getting stuck in an editing loop, working on what I had already written instead of finishing the story.
I’d spend hours creating notes or doing research to get one scene just right, or read paragraphs over and over again looking trying to come up with a perfect word or sentence — instead of moving anything forward. A lot of times, the ‘fixing’ made things worse, because I wasn’t focused on any particular problem. Without that focus, I could address some minor problem by creating a much bigger one — and it’s hard to know if changes are good or bad without the context of a finished draft.
Don’t get me wrong — spending time on the small stuff, even a lot of time, isn’t bad to do. Most any writer would want their word choices to be as perfect as they could make it, or to create enough notes and do enough research to make sure even a single comes across exactly how they’d want — but none of those things need to happen in Draft 1.
I like to call them Draft 2 Problems — things that can be fixed later, with more precision (and context), once the whole story is finished.
In fact, for me, they’re often Draft 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 problems, as I tend to focus on one or two aspects of a story per draft — trying to fix character issues in one draft, or working on world building in the next. Case in point: I’ll write a story with a second world setting using everyday vernacular here on earth that doesn’t fit within the context of the world I’m creating, just to get the basic story down — and then have a draft specifically focusing on making the dialog and terminology consistent and authentic to the world and characters I created.
Then, of course, I’ll have drafts focused on tightening prose, or on continuity issues, or on specific characters or character relationships, and drafts that focus on a whole host of other issues.
The point is, you don’t want to bog yourself down at any stage of the process because you’re trying to do everything at the same time — because you’re trying to be perfect in a single pass through the story.
If you try to be that perfect, then there’s a good chance you’ll never finish that stage, or even damage the story in some way that could take a lot of time to fix.
Plus, if you’re seeking that perfection in the early stages of your work, you’ll spend hours on scenes or characters that you’ll eventually cut or significantly alter somewhere down the line. And why waste time fixing something that won’t exist later when you could spend that time getting to the end sooner, or starting something new?
So, don’t let Draft X problems creep into Draft 1. Just keep plowing ahead.