As a writer, I have a huge problem. I can’t write

There, I’ve admitted it. 

I read a lot of other people’s drafts and their text flows, their language choices are good and they write like this. (And no, I’m not a graphic designer either!)

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So they start at the beginning of the story and they keep writing until they get to the end, then they do a bit of editing, that looks like this: 

And they repeat that process, then maybe do another bit of the straight line process repeatedly to re-read and proof-read and all that, and then they are done.

Me? I can’t do that. Nothing flows, language is like blood out a stone, and I can’t progress past the first page until I’ve got that right, and then I can’t progress past the first chapter until I’ve got that right, then maybe the first 20,000 words until I’m reasonably happy with those. Then the final chapter is the very last thing I write, pretty much after I’ve edited and polished the rest. 

If you can cope with another of my awful diagrams, it looks more like this:


Like crazy blanket-stitch.

Most advice will tell you NOT to write like this. It takes longer, for a start. You can take a long time getting that first complete draft done. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever done a complete rough first draft. I always start the edit before I’ve finished.

All the advice I’ve heard is to “write and keep writing”, ploughing on, don’t go back and edit anything until you have got that first draft on the page, and then you have 120,000 words or whatever that you can edit and re-edit etc.

I just can’t do that. I’ve tried. Maybe when I’ve written more books, I’ll do that, but for now, I need to have the early sections as close to publishable quality as I can before I write the rest of it. Anyone else share this issue?

Well, I’m now going to argue why this writing style actually works (at least for me):

1) I write the first page not to write the story, but to explore tone, character, 1st person vs 3rd person, and all those other things that make the story what it will be. Of course, I already have scribbled notes and outline details (see my previous blog), but this first page is my first indication of what this novel is really going to BE. The shape of things to come.

2) When later I am in the depths of despair, somewhere around 25,000 words usually, thinking why on earth I ever thought I could write, this polished and lovely first page becomes my beacon of hope.

3) Not only a beacon of hope, but the concept of the novel. As I build up that word count, I find it very easy to forget what the novel is really about, I drift off in all directions (some of them fruitful), but this first page, and then the first chapter, become my focus, that reminder of my intentions, of what got me excited about writing this story in the first place. I also use a logline, but I’ll talk about that more in a future blog.

4) Getting the first page and then the first chapter right means I’ve made a lot of decisions. I know who my main characters are, and how I’m going to tell the story. There’s nothing worse (for me anyway) than reaching 120,000 words and realising this 3rd person narrative would be better in 1st person, for example. That’s too much editing for me. That would make me feel like giving up. Of course, I make decisions before I’ve started writing anything, but I can’t always tell if the narrative should be in 3rd person until I’ve tried it out and re-read it a few times. I realise that these changes can be made at any time in the process, but I don’t like spending 6 months on a project to discover only then that it doesn’t work.

5) I can get someone to read early sections. I always doubt myself, so having a first chapter than I can send to a critical friend to read is a big bonus for me.  I have a few friends who will tell me honestly if the concept ‘has legs’, if the style is right, if they want to know what happens next. When you are stuck half-way through, or struggling with making choices, having a critical friend’s comments on that first chapter can encourage you to keep going. It’s wonderful having an interested reader ‘on your back’ demanding to know what happens next – such incentive is wonderful!

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So how are you writing your novel? In two halves? Jumping about from scene to scene, or are you someone who can write and just keep writing until you’ve finished?

Let me know in the Comments section below, or say hello via the Contact page. 

​And I’ll see you again tomorrow.