I've never been big on the whole philosophy of turning off your inner editor and letting yourself write crap and fix it later. Forever ago when I wrote Prototype I tried doing just that, and the results were disappointing. Writing had always tended to come easily for me, but I found myself stuck at the beginning of this book, feeling like someone had shut off a valve in me and the words just wouldn't flow. So I did what I'd always heard other people talking about and just plowed ahead, figuring I could fix it later. In the end, I wasn't very happy with what I wrote, and I don't feel like I ever quite fixed it either.
With Vanishing Act I didn't set out giving myself permission to write crap. That doesn't mean I wrote wonderfully polished stuff either. Many times crap is what I did write, but it was the best crap I was capable of turning out at the time. I've done a ton of revision, as I've attested to here, so this post is certainly not about writing stuff so good you don't need to revise. But I came to feel that if I gave myself permission to write stuff I thought was crap at the time, then crap was precisely what I would write, and I found decrapping crap to be excruciating and verging on impossible.
Years after Prototype when this whole NaNoWriMo thing came into popularity, I just figured "different strokes for different folks." Maybe some people really need the freeing effect of telling themselves to just get something down. That didn't seem to be how I worked.
I think I may be coming around.
I've put so much work into revising Vanishing Act, which used to be over fifty percent longer than it is now, that I think I've finally learned some lessons which couldn't seem to sink in before. I'm starting to get much better at finding prose that is not tight, and, more importantly, I'm starting to put my finger on what makes a scene boring or irrelevant. Revising was excruciating when it consisted of recognizing that something was crap but not having a clue in a bucket how to fix it. The other day it struck me that I've finally gotten a bit of a handle on how to decrap crap.
So next time I write something new instead of revising, I'm going to experiment with turning off that inner editor. It might be freeing. We'll see.
As for NaNoWriMo and the folks who preach "Give yourself permission to write crap," the one caveat I'll add to that is that if you don't spend a ton of time revising--as much time as you spend revising as you spend writing, probably, crap is still all you'll end up with. (Unless you're much luckier or more talented than I am.) I'm only now starting to feel like I have some of the tools to fix my own worst writing. If I were less obsessive, how would I pick up those tools? Books are wonderful, but I've learned that I can read advice that is true and useful and learn nothing until something makes me get it--not in my head, but down in my bones. (I know there's a NaNoReviseMo, but somehow I don't see as many people talking about participating in that.)
Revising is not a heady rush of artistic inspiration, but it may just be that it's in revising that you learn how to write.
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