Monday, March 14, 2011

Finish What You Start? The Internal Editor Doesn't Agree.

Okay – focus is not my strongest virtue.

In all honesty, I’m kind of like a caffeinated monkey with ADHD. Anyone who knows me probably will agree. This compulsion toward diverse and somewhat sporadic thinking is a plus for a working mom of multiple kids. Toss in a dash of insanity, and it makes for the perfect mix.

However, having these distractible tendencies does not always bode well for my writing life. There have been times where I’ve had four novels going at once. Did I make progress on each one? Yes, but so slowly that a turtle with arthritis could have beat me.

Not to mention, Mr. Internal Editor kept popping up like a Whack-a-Mole to further slow the process.

Right now, I’m working on a WWI historical romance that has been brewing in my head for over 10 years. Believe it or not, I finished the novel 8 years ago at 130K words. I picked it up three years ago and almost gagged.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a little bit about writing since then (praise God).

The plot was still good. I still loved the characters, but I needed to start over.


I started a new rule.

Finish what I start and ignore Mr. Editor.

Write the book to the end! Finish the manuscript. And THEN edit.

And here I am. Trying to be focused and forging ahead to finish a novel I absolutely love.

With Mr. Internal Editor twitching like an unreachable mosquito bite.

This weekend Ruth Axtell Morren told me something fabulous.

“You cannot edit a blank page.”

What did she mean by that? If I don’t write it, then there’s nothing to edit.

For a somewhat erratic mind like mine, this is a tough thing to do, but good practice in self-discipline. I’ve already moved faster through the novel in a week, than I had the previous two months.

Ruth also sent me an article to read by Susan Wiggs from RWR 2003. It was a good ‘kick in the Internal Editor’ and another scream to FINISH THE BOOK!

Why do we celebrate when someone says they’ve ‘finished their novel’ and not when they say they’ve begun a new one? Because, finishing is the capstone of the process. It separates the writers from the wannabes.

But it’s also really hard. Not for the faint of heart. And DEFINITELY requires massive amounts of chocolate.

Wiggs says, “Writing a book is a journey you make alone.”

Now as Christians, we would say that God is along with us, inspiring us every tap of the computer keys.

But as far as bringing along a mom, crit partner, or best friend? It’s not something you can do. It requires YOUR fortitude, YOUR time, YOUR focus….sigh….and Mine.

Even if you get frustrated, bored, angry, distracted….


Mary Connealy summed it up like this:

I've always believed that there are two main skills to being a writer.

1) Writing skills

2) Writing mentality

The writing skills you can learn.

The mentality, the personality type that can sit alone for long hours makin' stuff up, I think you're either born with it or you're not. It's not exactly NORMAL.

No comments about Mary’s abnormalcy, okay? But her quote hits on the point I want to make.

That Internal Editor comes in really handy after there is a story in place.

But if you have a penchant for distractibility or long-term motivation loss, then start with page one and move forward. Switch off Mr. Editor, check tiny facts when you layer later on, but write! Write to the end.

Writing not only requires the skill to write, but the stick-to-itness to get to the end. So...moral of my novel-length post?

Finish what you start.

I need to do the same thing.

Believe me, it will be one of the most wonderful days of your life when you write that final word and know…

Your perseverance paid off.

(and hopefully it will lead to tangible payment someday too :-)

Anyone else have trouble with focus? Any rules or motivation that keep you going to the end?


Pictures courtesy of:


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Hey Pepper,

I'm so here with you. I think this happens, I take on more than one project b/c I'm feeling it more for one project than the other(s). I need to hone in on the one I'm feeling it for (or the one with the strongest plot/marketability/chance for publication) and stick with that puppy.

Making this decision right now.
~ Wendy

Kav said...

I recently read about the writing habits of a multiple published children's author. She said she is often writing two or three books at a time. She writes full time so she might start on one manuscript in the morning but will only contine with it as long as the writing is fluid. The second she loses steam, she turns to the next project and starts with that. She continues to project hop all day. It certainly seems to work for her, BUT I think her key is that she writing with a purpose and is finishing each wip so she does have focus. She finds each new perspective invigorating and claims that she can avoid writer's block with this system.

I have got hung up with the internal editor thing. I've second guessed myself so much that I'm getting mired in plot and get a deer-in-the-headlights kind of feeling everytime I sit down in front of the computer. In order to combat that I take about ten minutes (at least) and empty my mind of everything except the scene I'm about to write. I just think about it, let it play out in my mind so I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish with it. This is helping the words flow again and keeping me on focus as well.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Pepper! I've always had trouble finishing a wip because I get bored with the story or a new project seems more interesting. I've always been prone to editing too much before I'm finished. After I sold I had to finish quickly so I didn't have time to deal with my Internal Editor. I just had to write fast. I reread a few pages from the day before, but I don't obsess anymore. At least I finish my stories now!

Pepper said...

Feeling your pain. totally! It's good to know I'm not alone.

Pepper said...

Oh wow, Kav.
Thanks for your insight.
I know for me, I've had to modify my work to fit my creative style. I WILL NOT allow myself to go to another novel (one of my kid novels or adult ones) unless I've completed x amount of writing that day. My brain needs the switch up sometimes. Does yours ever do that?

Clearing my mind before the scene is a MUST. I totally get that.

Pepper said...

You're a kindred spirit -as so many of the Seekers are.
Isn't it HARD to turn off that editor?

Casey said...

Great post, Pep. I know what you mean. I'm in the process of writing a new story right now and have had to set it aside for a little while because of homework for another class I am taking. But I don't want this story to languish. I already had one like that now! But is so hard to not want to go back and fix all the many weak spots.


But I will push through and you will to. :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Writing is all about forward motion. Editing is going backward and correcting, improving, slicing and dicing, polishing . . . you get the idea. You can't go forward and backward at the same time. So, I only allow myself to do one thing at a time: write OR edit. And that means ignoring all the things I want to correct along the way--just keep on going forward, even if I know I need to change the dialogue or improve my storyworld. That's the rule: One thing at a time. Write. Then edit. No interrupting the writing time by going back and editing what I just wrote 10 minutes ago.

Christine said...

I moved VERY SLOWLY through my first book because every time I finished a chapter, I went back to edit. I didn't know any better at the time. My second book went a little faster but still couldn't keep that editor tucked away. I entered the NaNoWriMo contest and learned a valuable lesson. I CAN keep that little voice quiet! I finished the story in about 2 1/2 months. Now it will take me about 5-6 months to finish the editing. That is still MUCH faster for a completed work than anything I've finished before.

The moral of the story - do one thing at a time if you want it done well.

Thanks for the post and the reminder!

Kaye Dacus said...

One of my favorite mantras of late is that the best way to learn how to be a multipublished author is to finish multiple manuscripts before you get published. It's so much harder to figure out how to finish one novel and move on to the next one when you're trying to do it on deadline, rather than when you have all the time in the world to do it.

The best piece of writing advice I heard was in the first workshop of the first writers' conference I ever went to: "Above all else, FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT" (Davis Bunn, Blue Ridge 2001). As someone who'd been writing (playing with) the same characters for about ten years at that point (with more than 200k in the "story"---yet it wasn't actually *about* anything), the idea of finishing something, writing "the end," terrified me. I didn't think I could do it.

But being someone who likes challenges, I decided to see if I could do it---write a novel from beginning to end without jumping around and without getting caught up in the write-it-then-tinker-with-it-for-years loop. It took me nine months to write that one. And then I wanted to see if I could do it again. And I did, in seven months. The third manuscript was completed in four months (while working full time and taking 9 hours of upper level undergraduate classes). After that one, I came up with a romance idea involving a wedding planner who think she's falling in love with a client.

My fourth completed manuscript, STAND-IN GROOM, was the first that I ever did any revision work on---mostly because I knew those first three were learning exercises. I never expected to submit those for publication---mainly because at the time I was writing these 100k+ manuscripts, I was being told that the only way to break into publishing was to write HeartSongs. But they were great exercises in finishing what I started.

And learning to finish what I started really came in handy the last two years in which I've had to write six books---yes, three books a year of 100,000 or more words. With some of them being historicals and all the research that goes along with that.

So, yeah, I'm a big proponent of "finish what you start."

Pepper said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Case.
With encouragers like you, I'm sure to finish (for the SECOND time) :-)
writing is such a great teacher of self-discipline though - even with I'm bored or frustrated, I find I can write through it, if I keep doing it. Jane Austen has a GREAT quote about that...I'm going to have to go find it

Pepper said...

Beth said, "writing is all about forward motion'
Thanks so much for that kick-in-the-internal-editor moment, Beth.
That's right. Moving forward and, as you said, editing is about going back. I envy your ability to separate the two so well. I can get lost in the editing so that my writing comes to a complete stop!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I used to do this all the time. It wasn't that I wouldn't ever finish a story, it was that I'd get too many ideas in the meantime and want to start writing those before all the inspiration left me and moved onto something else (another story). I realized that I needed to get more organized and write faster.

That's when I started plotting. I wanted to always finish what I started and in order to know if I was going to have the patience and enough plot to do so, I had to outline most of the story. I used to finish stories anywhere between two weeks and one year depending on my motivation. But once I started plotting, I'd make steady progress and finish stories in a good, solid three or four months and it works so much better for me. Definitely not as many unfinished stories :)

Pepper said...

I've heard so many people sing the praises of NaNoWriMo for that very reason. Last summer I clicked off the internal editor because my characters were itching to get out of my head so badly. I wrote the 120K novel in 3 months (during my summer break when I only worked part-time) I was AMAZED that I could do it, and it's encouraged me to do it again. Not quite as fast, because I can't work part-time right now. :-)

Isn't it an amazing feeling when you finally make it to that last page, though?

Pepper said...

Thanks for your great advice and encouragement too. Wow! With all those novels out (or coming out), it almost makes my head spin. You HAVE to be focused.
Do you write more than one novel at a time?

Pepper said...

the SAME thing happens to me.
SOOO many ideas, too little time :-)
Your strategy sounds great!! Sigh. Oh the idea of finishing a novel in 3 months again.
I might need to invest in some fairy dust or something :-)

Keli Gwyn said...

Pepper, I smiled when I read how you described yourself as "kind of like a caffeinated monkey with ADHD." That's got to make sitting in one place and staying focused on your story tough. I feel for you.

I hear you on the Internal Editor who loves to interject her thoughts. I have to stuff a rag in my IE's mouth, tie her up, and banish her from my office when I'm working on a rough draft. But, wow, does she ever have fun when I release her and unleash her on my manuscript. =)

Pepper said...

I feel like my IE is like our 80 pound dog when he gets to take a run.
My kids say, "Let's unleash the beast."
Yep, my IE is the same way :-)

Do you think chocolate would be good medication for a caffienated monkey with ADHD? :-)

Casey said...

Oh I know just how that goes! When the going gets tough to just sit down and just WRITE anyway, more times out of not I just push through it and hit the other side all the better for it. I feel for ya, let me tell ya! :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Oh my goodness, yes, I so struggle with this.

Putting it away is harder and oh so humbling. Who was it that said about writing cr*ppy first drafts? Mine are very much so now. But I'm on my way to finishing...and I suppose when I finish then I can obsess. :)

Pepper said...

that Jane Austen quote is this:
"I am not at all in a humor for writing. I must write on until I am."

Sherrinda said...

Oh yes...I'm there. I get distracted wanting fix the first part until the first part doesn't even fit the rest of the story I already have down on paper. Sigh...such a mess. :)

Pepper said...

Oh the very ugly first draft!
But, at least there are words on paper to edit! Even if they're not the best. The great news for both of us is - once there ON the page, we can always make them BETTER :-)

Pepper said...

I knew my kindred spirit would show up sometime today!!

Mary Vee said...

Touche, Pepper.

You have raised your sword--the challenge is on

First Point to you--

Angie said...

Getting here a little late...but I struggle with when to edit, when to truck on...I think I even wrote about that at some point?? Your post came to me at such a great time. And my post scheduled for Monday has something to do with it! :) I am Motivationally-challenged...sorry for the -ly. :)

Kaye Dacus said...

Pepper, no, I can't write more than one at a time---mostly because of the need to focus on the one that's on deadline. I have, however, paused during writing one novel to work on the proposal for a new series, including writing sample chapters.