The first thing to learn in the writing journey is that not all writing is the same. There are several types or stages of writing, and each of them requires a certain mindset and set of skills to accomplish them. And just because you’re good at one type of writing, doesn’t make you good at the other types, and making the transitions to each can be difficult to accomplish or there might be difficulty in determining when to make the transition.
This is the kind of writing most people assume writers do (but in reality it’s just the first step in a larger process). It’s the fun stuff. The part were you let everything just explode out of your head and onto the page. It’s an everything goes kind of thing where no idea is a bad idea and anything can happen. It can be a most uplifting experience, especially if you’ve done a lot of thinking about the story before ever placing pen to paper. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. It’s where that thing called a writer’s high happens, and it’s a great place to be!
This writing stage doesn’t require a whole lot of special knowledge. Just an idea of what makes a good story, what makes compelling characters, and how to write a beginning, middle and end of a story. Much of this can be learned simply by being an avid reader, or taking some writing workshops on story structure and character development.
Want to know what coming to a screeching stop while going full speed ahead on a great story feels like? Just start rewriting. That will put a crimp in best laid plans. Switching gears isn’t easy. It’s a whole new level of writing, and it takes a completely different state of mind and level of skills to do it. This part of the writing journey requires deep thought, getting into a character’s head to figure out if those high flying ideas actually work. It’s a kick in the pants to discover that many of the ideas actually suck (quite terribly sometimes), but a real coup when you finally (after lots of head banging on the wall) find that missing link that makes everything fit together just right. It makes that writer’s high feel like a kiddy ride.
The best way to make the transition from the freestyle writing stage to the rewriting stage is to not start rewriting until the WHOLE first draft is completed. Switching back and forth between freestyle writing and rewriting in one story is a quick way to a headache (and the beginning of insanity). Also the time it takes (it can take anywhere from a few days or weeks to make the appropriate “mental” adjustment) to switch from one stage to the next will slow the writing process down considerably, and even lead to unnecessary frustration and potentially to writer’s block. Even if it’s a small section. Just make a note of the changes you want to make and keep going. Be smart and just don’t do it. No matter how badly you want to, because you know you’ll want to.
This stage of writing requires a great deal of knowledge, as this is when all those things like pacing, story conflict, natural dialogue, getting the right point of view, ect. is essential. All of this can also be learned from reading lots and lots, writing workshops and books, and also loads of practice. Another tricky part of this stage is finding the right melding of ideas and characters. This only comes with experience. The more you write, the better you get. So don’t fret over rewriting a scene ten or twenty times. Sometimes that is what it takes, and other times it’s a matter of deciding to move on to the next stage.
The transition from rewriting to editing (or the final polish stage) isn’t quite as bad a transition, but it is the most difficult to determine when to make that transition. Let’s face it. Nothing is perfect. No story without it’s flaws. At some point the story must be determined “finished” or you will discover a whole new meaning of insanity. It’s not pretty, and I’m pretty sure padded walls and straight jackets are involved. Don’t go there. It really isn’t worth it. So before you get started on version nine hundred and twelve, call it done and get started on the editing stage of the writing process.
Editing is something that should be done LAST. Not during the first draft, second, or even third. Tempted to go back and fix something, or worrying about whether a word is spelled right? Want to go back and fix all those missing commas and grammar mistakes? Or maybe you’ve decided to change your character’s name from George to Harry. Or that high speed car chase really needs to happen at night instead of day. DON’T! Really, just don’t do it. The process will only slow you down and drive frustration levels to new dizzying heights. Make a note or highlight a section if you really must, but don’t stop. Don’t worry about the little things, they can be fixed later.
This stage of writing is perhaps the easiest to learn, because it’s not quite as subjective as some of the other areas of writing. This is because the English language has rules, which must be followed (usually). You probably already have a good basis of this knowledge through grade school and/or college. But it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the rules of editing every now and again through online classes or grammar books. Sure there are rules, but there are always the exceptions to those rules too, and remembering them all just isn’t that practical.
Writing isn’t without it’s downs, but usually the ups make it more than worth the journey. Just realize that not every moment of writing can be deemed fun, or even pleasant. Know also that you might be stronger in one stage of the process than others. Like anything worth while, writing takes work, and lots of it. The best way to finish a story is to just do it, and one day you might find that you’ve become a little bit better at making the transition from one stage of writing to the next, and that stage you used to struggle with seems to get a little bit easier to do.