Thursday, November 10, 2011

Put Down the Red Pen and Pick Up the Pace

“Don’t get it right, get it written.”  James Thurber’s words are sage advice to any novelist struggling through a first draft, stopping every sentence or two to tweak what they’ve just typed.  Yet like a life lesson from a parent that the child doesn’t follow until they’ve already made a mistake, it’s difficult advice for many beginning writers, particularly students, to follow.  We write self-consciously, fighting the urge to revise each letter that we press down on the keyboard, as though an editor is reading over our shoulders, squawking mistakes into our ears like a parrot asking for crackers.

I'll tell you what I'm not doing with my life: Making progress.

Why the sluggish pace toward the finish line?  For some, revise as you write is simply the method that works best for them, a process they have adapted to over the years and one that they can use while still making good progress.  But the rest of us, staring at the computer, averaging about seven words a day, often have no trouble pounding out a term paper in the course of one long, caffeine-fueled night.  We may regret every moment of the process, cursing ourselves for our procrastination and cursing the entire family lineage of the professor who gave the assignment, but nonetheless, we get it done.  What makes a novel such a different beast?

The first draft of a novel is unlike any other work a student will be assigned.  Most creative writing classes don’t focus on reading novels, or teach how to plow through writing them.  As Cathy Day discusses in her article “The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis,” students are taught to write short, standalone texts:

“Why is this so? Simply: the short story is a more manageable form, both for the instructor and the student, and I have been both. For the writer who teaches a full load of courses and is always mindful of balancing “prep” time with writing time, it’s easier to teach short stories than novels, and it’s easier to annotate and critique a work-in-progress that is 10 pages long as opposed to a story that is 300 pages long. It’s advantageous for students, too. Within the limited time frame of a semester, they gain the sense of accomplishment that comes with writing, submitting for discussion, revising, and perhaps even finishing (or publishing!) a short story.”
The classroom setting not only often avoids teaching novels, but can also discourage writing them through the workshop set-up:

“But I am saying that I think a lot of what comes out of creative writing programs are stories that could be or want to be novels, but the academic fiction workshop is not fertile ground for those story seeds. The seeds don’t grow. They are (sometimes) actively and (more likely) passively discouraged from growing. The rhythm of school, the quarter or semester, is conducive to the writing of small things, not big things, and I don’t think we (“we” meaning the thousands of writers currently employed to teach fiction writing in this country) try hard enough to think beyond that rhythm because, for many of us, it’s the only rhythm we know. We need to teach students how to move from “story” to “book,” because the book is (for now, at least) the primary unit of intellectual production.”
For this reason, Cathy Day structured her Advanced Fiction class around the production of the first draft of a novel, assigning novels to the reading list to give her students an idea of how to structure their own, and setting a requirement of 3,333 new words each week.  For some, the words have flown freely from the keyboard.  But others, accustomed to the write, revise, write, revise method employed in most creative writing classes, have found their wheels spinning in the mud, their novels inching forward.

How do we keep ourselves from revising?  No first draft is perfect, and how can we stand to stare at our work, with all its mistakes, and convince ourselves to keep going rather than to work backward?

Don’t reread your work, for a start.  Looking at your first draft, beyond a cursory skim to see where you last left off, is asking to have each little flaw on the pages highlighted in your mind.  For this reason, it’s important to have a detailed storyboard of your work, so that you know where you have been without rereading.  This is also helpful to the process of moving forward because you’ll know where you are going next.  If your writing program features a spell check, turn it off for the time being.  Listen to fast-paced or inspirational music as you write.  If a scene is so unbearably bad that you can’t stand to look at it without revising, start a new one.  If a scene is too boring, either move ahead or force something to happen within the scene, even if you aren’t yet sure how this new, unexpected event will fit into the plot.  And if you show your early work to others, make it clear that you aren’t asking what you should change or what you’ve done wrong.  You simply want to know if they can tell what drives your characters or where the plot is headed.

Of course, avoiding all revision, however minor, is impossible.  We authors are our own worst critics, and we will always feel compelled to fiddle with the words we’ve written.  Revision isn’t a bad thing, even at the start of the writing process, provided it does not become so extensive as to overwhelm any progress in the writing.  It’s fine to alter a word choice here or there, but don’t do it with each sentence of your first draft.  And save the major revisions—reordering scenes, altering settings, introducing or removing characters from a chapter—until your first draft is completed.  It may not be a work of art, but it’s much easier to sculpt a whole block of wood into a thing of beauty than it is to try the same process on a few twigs.

-Lauren Burch


  1. I can really relate to this issue of editing or revising as I go. I was originally trained, and worked for a number of years, as an “old school” journalist. Which means that I was trained to edit and revise on the go—while writing/creating. It’s so much a part of how I write everything—it has become almost a subconscious process in my writing--I have to struggle constantly against it, now that I’m writing longer creative pieces.

    The thing about taking a class like this is that we aren’t here because we’re already successful publishing writers. We’re here because we’re trying to become better writers and usually in the hopes of also becoming successful publishing writers. I try to remind myself often that it’s the journey that counts. I listen to my mentors—professors, other writers, other writing students—and try to put into practice what I learn from them. I fail. I try again. I learn more. I keep trying…. It’s a never-ending cycle of improvement that will last my lifetime, unless I give up. That’s the key. Just not ever giving up. Sometimes the words flow easy and well, sometimes I struggle for days (or longer) and all I write is garbage. Sometimes I go back to the beginning and start over. Even then, the work I’ve put in is useful. It solidifies who a character is, or helps me get in touch with the milieu in which I’ve set my story, for example.

    It’s easy for college students (of any age) to get caught up in worrying about the end product, about due dates, about grades, about word counts, about all the other assignments for all the other classes we’re taking (especially if those other classes are also all writing classes). Forgetting all the non-college things we have going on in our lives at any one time (family obligations, developing or maintaining relationships, bills, income issues, car repairs, illnesses—our own or our family’s, deaths in the family, etc.), we may also worry about whether we’ll be able to sell our work or whether it will be good enough to land us a spot in graduate school.

    All that worrying is at least as detrimental to creativity and writing a first draft, than all the editing and revising we’re doing while we’re creating—unless we let the editing and revising take over our writing/creating time entirely.

    So, like I said, I keep reminding myself to “enjoy the ride” and “never quit”. The other stuff will take care of itself.

  2. Thanks Maye!

    What I'm really interested to have you guys talk about: What do you think about the "Story Problem" essay? Are you a left-handed novelist or a right-handed story writer? Have you caught on to the fact that this class isn't about "writing" a novel but on *drafting* one, that you are being graded by an entirely different set of criteria than normal? I have forced all of you to turn the writing process into two distinct phases: drafting and polishing. How has this affected your writing life? The noveling topic this week is REVISION, but I'm not letting you revise yet. I'm making you move forward. How do you feel about that?

    My own answer: Last year, I drafted 51,000 words of my novel in this course--all in first person, all very rough. This year, I've been challenging myself to meet the 3,333 words a week deadline with POLISHED words. This has been very hard and slow--I've produced/polished about 35 pages over the course of the semester. One week, I'll sketch out the chapter for my 3,333 words, using the material from last year, and then the next week, I'll polish those words. This is exactly what I've told you guys NOT to do, so why am I doing it?

    I'm going through an institutional review process here at BSU and have to produce pages to demonstrate that I've been making progress on the novel. I'm sure if I gave them my 350 pages of sketched-out chapters, they'd scratch their heads in bewilderment. No, I have to give them pages that have been at least somewhat finalized, which means that I'm moving at a much slower pace than you guys. You just have to show the pages--the quality doesn't matter, only the quantity. Please: take advantage of the opportunity I'm giving you to just get your book out, because let me tell you, an opportunity to do so won't pass your way again until you are graduated and "writing in the cold," no deadlines, no one telling you to do it or how to do it, just you figuring it all out alone.

  3. Revising as I go has never been a huge issue for me. I guess I'm one of the few lucky ones in that respect. Writing my essays and reports in high school made me realize I work best when I outline, hammer out the words, then go back and fix the big mistakes. Only after that do I bother with small details. It's been my process for years, and it's been working great for this class.

    Writing fiction is much different than the unimaginitative papers from high school though. I think one thing that really helped me was reading Anne Lamott's "Bird By Bird" during my first creative writing class here at Ball State. It had a lot of practical information, but it directly addresses the topic of first drafts in a chapter (appropriately titled) "Shitty First Drafts." She outright acknowledges that our first drafts are awful, but beyond that, I learned not to be afraid of that. Learning that even the well-known authors write crap on their first try was great for me. It let me lighten up and do what I had to.

    I personally love the format of the noveling class. It lets me experiment without feeling the overwhelming pressure to create something good. It lets me discover a lot about myself-since I was unsure at the start if I'd have the attention span to write an entire novel. I think one of the best things is that we workshop only twice, only a small sample of our work, and with a small group. It doesn't focus on what to fix, but what we're getting from each other's work as is. From that, we learn what to change and correct, but it doesn't discourage or hinder our writing. I love it, and I'm never embarrassed to share my work with them because we're all at a similar place.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I have to start by saying that “don’t get it right, get it written” is simple, yet amazing advice to take. It was almost impossible for me to get that when I first started this process, but once I did realize that we were drafting a novel rather then writing one it became easier. In order to realize that however, I had to take a long look at my writing process and somewhat story board that as well. I planned out how I wanted my book to progress, how I was going to write it, how and when I would revise, and how many drafts I planned to have before I would, if ever, show it to anyone. That is how I made myself look at this process as drafting rather than writing. Hearing the word drafting in class helps too of course.

    Having been taught to write papers to be graded on a very specific rubric, it is hard to turn off that switch and write just to get my ideas on the page. When I write academically, I have always revised as I went, not even by sentence, but by word. I have always been a procrastinator, writing five, ten, and twenty-five page papers the night before they are due. I assumed at the beginning of the semester that keeping up with the weekly due dates would be the hardest part as I am such a last-minute type student, but it has really been not revising. I can pin point errors in my mind that I haven’t even gone back and read and they bother me. In order to not revise, I have had to completely ignore everything I have written thus far and focus on my storyboard (once it was finished.)

    Now that I have tweaked my writing process and adapted to the format of our novel writing class, I adore it. I know that in the long run, I will wind up with the most pages I have ever written and that none of them will be usable, however having figured out my drafting process as well, I know that even so, this is still the most progress I have ever made. I wish I could have adapted to the “no revision” way of writing earlier on if not before this class because I know that I could have made much more progress in this class and in others. I have taken this new method and applied it to academic writing recently and found that it helps tremendously in writing term papers too.

    I know if I wasn’t being reminded constantly not to revise and if I wasn’t getting a progress-grade, I would still be stuck on page five rather than ninety-five so although it is different and difficult, it is worth the adjustment.

    *Also, I must say that listening to more upbeat music while I write has really helped me to write faster. Until I read this post, I was listening to very slow, mellow music from the time in which I am writing about and it was slowing me down. (I just had not yet noticed.) I took that advice during my most recent writing session and nearly doubled my output. Thanks for the tip.

  6. [this is from Anne Haben!]

    For me right now it's not about revising. Don't get me wrong if I have a typo I fix the spelling, or maybe I write down a word and then decide I like another one better immediately after typing the first I will quickly change it. The thing is though when I write I want to get it all out as quickly as possible for fear of losing my train of thought. I would rather crank out a thousand new words than go back and keep revising the same ones over and over again it's tedious and it bugs me especially when all I want to do is get my story from my head to the page.

    I think this is why this class works so well for me. Yes sometimes I get stuck and don't get all my words for the week but at least I know I am always making some sort of progress.

    Sometimes it's hard to not want to go back and fix things when you have a workshop or are re-reading what you wrote the previous week to see where you left off. But I know I'm better off to just keep trudging forward and leave myself some notes on where I need to go back and clear things up.

    Maybe this is because I have always worked this way even when writing short stories for other classes. At first it's not about perfection but getting your story out there. So maybe this came from waiting to the last minute to write something and I just needed to get it finished in time so checking for mistakes came after ending the story. Oh well, that's just how college students tend to be. On the bright side of my bad habits, this has helped me in the way I view writing a novel.

    Besides we are all writers here and when we look over each other's work we know it is still a work in progress because we are all at the same point as of now and I love getting feedback from my group. Their questions and comments give me motivation to keep going.


  7. I revise as I’m typing words. Sometimes I’ll get in a flow and I’ll hammer out 4K like I did last night and then I’ll have days like Tuesday’s class where I’ll sit for an hour and agonize how I want to phrase something and only get five hundred words written. I spend my class time visualizing scenes and character interactions instead of listening to professors so when I start writing I’ve already done a healthy bit of revising.
    I’ve never been one for revising, even on papers I turn in the first draft is usually the one I stick with. I read through it a couple times and fix typos or add a sentence here or there but mostly I get out what I want as I’m writing it. That’s for academic papers though. When I write fiction my goal is to get out the skeleton, like, this is how I want these characters to interact, this is what I want to happen here and this is how this is how this conflict is going to resolve. Because I’m a free spirit when it comes to writing and I don’t like caging my characters in outlines not even I know what’s going to happen next which keeps the writing exciting for me. I know the big things that need to happen like important discoveries and character progression marks but I leave most of it up in the air. Like what I wrote last night, my characters are walking down a hall discussing mythology, two days ago I didn’t know they’d be doing that.
    Back to revising though. When I finish the story, that’s when I go back and actually write the story. This is where I fill in characters, the setting, the fuzzier moments of how or why something happened the way it did. Revision for me is synonymous with depth not editing.
    It’s weird and haphazard but revision is a half step between writing and editing for me. I don’t really think much about it because what I put down has already been somewhat edited in my head.

  8. It’s still hard for me to keep going on my novel without going back and fixing every word thrice over. It’s not so much that I want to go through it as a second draft and perfect it, but it’s more that my instincts for most writing classes are still there in the back of my mind. I know that its okay in this class to turn a draft in that’s less than perfect, but I still worry over every bad sentence. For the first half of advanced fiction my mind was still on the grade, not the novel.

    However, I’ve been getting a lot better at the class’s structure as we’ve gone on. Mostly it was me forcing myself not to look back. Exactly as it’s said above; if someone doesn’t re-read their work, they cannot see the flaws. When my first draft is finished, and only then, then I can go back and look at everything that needs to be changed. I still worry about my grade, but now it’s more about quantity and getting my word counts finished in the midst of my other writing class assignments. I’ve had to schedule out my writing time between all of my assignments, and when I work on my novel I have to force myself to think that it isn’t for a class, it’s for me. The class is just an instrument that encourages me to move forward and finish my word counts.

    It’s a shame that the beginning writing classes don’t have a week where they challenge students to work on the start of something and not go back and edit. Professors often lecture about writing a horrible first draft, yet they don’t let anyone put it into action. If I had been exposed to the idea earlier on perhaps it would have been easier to get into the groove of the class now. Most everything in college is about grades and making things into a final, perfect product, but even a sampling of writing with reckless abandon would prepare future novelists and show them the attitude they have to take towards longer works. I’m not sure how it could be introduced, especially in the beginner classes, but if there was a way to do that it could have a very positive effect on students. They could learn that they truly don’t have to have every word exactly right the first time through.

    I still have to remind myself every now and again that it isn’t the quality of the end product that matters. It’s about getting as many words down as I possibly can in a semester’s time. Not moving backwards to edit has forced me to make a lot of progress. However, it has also shown me just how long this project is going to be. I have about 15,000 words at the moment and I haven’t even gotten through the fifth chapter. It’s a daunting task, knowing that I have thousands and thousands of words to go, but even if I don’t get as far as others in the class I know I have enough of a start that I’ll continue after the semester ends. Normally on a project I get discouraged at around the 10,000 word mark, but now that I’ve near about gotten to the conflict of the story, I’ll be able to push through and finish something for once. If I’ve learned anything from this class it’s that my novel isn’t about a grade; it’s about accomplishing my own personal goals. I can write for myself, and that’s the most freeing feeling in the world.

  9. At first, hearing that we’d be drafting a novel was a bit intimidating. I’d been waiting to learn about this process for a long time! It seemed like all other classes were just about short papers, and short papers weren’t what I wanted to focus on. I agree that short stories are what fiction classes concentrate on because it is more manageable. When this class began I thought, “Finally, a class that will teach me about novel writing!” The thing I heard the most surprised me. It was to simply get things written, no matter how terrible they might be at first. I began by thinking, “How am I going to write something as good as these other novels? What I wrote here doesn’t sound half as good!” Well of course it doesn’t! It’s a draft. I was always worried about writing something that was “not good enough”. I guess I still worry about this to a degree, but I am way more relaxed about it now. Now I tell myself not to worry about the process so much, just write, and it’ll come. It might come after many drafts, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll have to do. I was able to write all those weeks of 3,333 words and submit something for peer revision. Once I did that, I was able to look at the feedback and know I had some place to go. I still had the end of the story in sight, as well as things I needed to clear up from what I already had been thinking about.

    I’ve come to like the process of hammering out as many words as I can, because once I have a layout, then I can go back and add scenes, change them, and take them out. As long as a storyline is down, I don’t think I would have to worry about writers’ block as much. This process helps with writers’ block so much! All I have to do is write something. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be there. Then when I go back to it, I have something to continue working on!

    In my opinion, there’s always time for revision later. The story is born out of the draft, so the first draft is the place to get all the jumbled ideas from the mind out on paper so that they’re able to be organized and reorganized.

  10. As a young writer, I can admit I worry about the little things. When I am trying to get my 3,333 words done each week I mainly focus on getting out all my ideas. I don't hold back on anything until I am finished with my words that are to be turned in. After that, I will admit I do go back and read what I wrote. This is the most important step to me though, even if Professor Day is telling me to neglect it. The lucky part of it is I am usaully pleased with what I wrote, and I do not change much. Maybe some tense issues or fill in a bland words for a more ravishing one.

    Reading what I wrote gives me more inspiration. I get involved with my story, and feel through my characters. But as far as revising goes, I don't do much of it. I am happy to say that most of what I write isn't so "shitty" like other writers claim. I can sit back, read and be proud.

    Of course when I am done writing this novel, I am going to revamp the entire thing. I will see it from start to finish, and I will know what to add in. That is the time for revision, when you see the whole picture.

    Cathy Day's class is a great structure for me, and I gladly accept her methods. Revising shouldn't be so dwelled upon at this stage. The most important thing is getting the story on paper.

  11. I'm a long short story writer. I think that's what I'm good at, and it's what I like to write. However, I've always felt these stories had a lot of potential to become novels or even novelas, but I've always had a problem fleshing them out, like adding twists and turns, describing every last detail of a room, etc. I think one of the reasons I like writing the longer short stories is because I can revise as I go and still finish the story in a timely manner I'm comfortable with.

    That's one of the problems I've ran into with this course. I go back and revise so much, it's really hard for me to move forward and get my words done. The structure of the class for the second part of the semester, however, I think has been very beneficial. It sort of trained me to do the things mentioned in the article like don't reread what you've written. That's what the story board is for. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the storyboard because I feel like it's extra work, and I'd rather change my mind on the fly rather than going back and changing the storyboard first, then changing my story. This has also been a problem for me because when I do change on the fly, I have to reread everything and find where I need to change what's been previously written to follow suit moving forward. So, the storyboard has been rather beneficial thing for me to utilize.

    One of the best things I've learned from this class is like what Christine said--revising shouldn't be so dwelled upon at this stage. The most important thing is getting the story on paper.

  12. I’m definitely one of the “revise as I go” types, though I’ve tried to keep myself from doing that for the purpose of this assignment. The problem for me is that I have issues with going back over something right after I’ve written it. I either need to do it as I go, or else I need a few months to let it sit, before I want to go back, and by then I’ll have forgotten all of the things that I had made a mental note of as items that I may have wanted to change. Immediately after finishing a piece, especially a longer one that I’ve invested some serious time in, I get bored with it and just want to move on to the next thing. So it’s better to keep myself working within the piece to get it as close to publishable as I can before I actually finish it. I understand how it can seem like this might add a ton of time to the writing process, but I’d rather fix a problem early on (especially in something as long as a novel) than let it grow into something I have to surgically extract like a literary tumor later. If I let these problems pile up, I find it more and more discouraging as I try to make progress. It’s better to deal with them as they arise. I’m trying not to do this with this particular project, but sometimes I find it quite difficult. There are characters and plotlines in the story right now that I know don’t really belong, but which have ttangled themselves up in the story in some way or another. I’d rather go back, get rid of them, patch up the holes, and proceed confidently now, than get weighed down by their presence as I continue.

  13. from Spencer McNelly!

    Here are the top three lessons I've learned about the revision process:

    1. Patience - I signed up for this class to write a novel, but realized this class is for coming out with a draft. NOT EVEN A SOLID DRAFT. JUST ONE DAMN DRAFT. That's allowed me to be a little more patient with myself because novel writing isn't a sit down one time and get everything down. Novel writing isn't ALWAYS this cathartic experience, like poetry. Sometimes it is. But most of the time it's work and planning and schedules and words and writing just to write.

    2. Take Chances - Yes, much like the 2009 hit single by Céline Dion, "Taking Chances", this class has taught me to be daring. Don't be afraid to start something new, shift perspective, focus on a different character. That DOESN'T mean you made a mistake, it means you're working! Who cares how long it takes you get to a place of content with your work as long as you get there!

    3. Endurance - Novel writing ISN'T a marathon. A marathon takes hours. Novel writing takes years. I believe that to be a fact. YES, of course you have your literary freaks who write seven novels in a week. But for us, we've tried to write novels before, or have written novels but didn't polish them, or haven't ever written a novel because it's too intimidating or we've been discouraged by The Man. It's taken years for us to get to this point. Just to the point of admitting that we think we have a novel in us. Don't think that your journey to admittance ISN'T a part of the novel writing process. BECAUSE IT IS.

  14. Maye- I know what you mean about journalism making you work as a constant editor. I only spent a few months this summer interning at a newspaper and even that affected how I write fiction. While I think there are benefits to writing a novel in a college class - deadlines to work toward, constant support - it is hard not to get caught up in other coursework to the point of stagnation. I also like what you said about a never ending cycle of learning; I've been dictating stories to others since before I could write and I still learn something about the process every time I sit down to type.

    Jennifer- One of the problems I used to have with novel writing is that I never applied the outline process to my creative works. I always associated that sort of planning with boring school papers, and so that held me back for a while. It's good to know that this class is still helping and motivating you even though you've already got your planning methods down. I also agree on the workshops - when I first heard we'd be workshopping last year, I panicked. But the small amount of work to show off and later revise really makes the whole thing easy and much less stressful than my short story workshops ever were.

    Mo- I like the distinction in your post between writing and drafting. That took me a while to figure out as well, especially since we've become accustomed to tailoring our writing to fit a rubric over our school careers. I hope the "don't revise" rule sticks with you in the future - it's definitely stayed with me - so that you can keep producing, even if it is just a draft. I'm also glad that my upbeat music advice helped. I have different types of songs I listen to, depending on if I'm writing something tense, happy, or full of action and such, but I try to make sure that the music is fast-paced no matter what the emotions behind it are. It's really amazing, the difference that the music I listen to has on how much writing I produce.

    Anne- "I would rather crank out a thousand new words than go back and keep revising the same ones over and over again" ought to be written on a poster and distributed in creative writing classes everywhere. My favorite thing about reading these posts is hearing everyone discuss how their writing/revising style has adapted to suit this class. We've really never been taught to write novels, as Cathy said in her essay, and this class has been a huge help.

    Meredith- "It’s a shame that the beginning writing classes don’t have a week where they challenge students to work on the start of something and not go back and edit." That would be a wonderful assignment. It's a shame that I'm long out of 285 or I would make a suggestion for an assignment like that at the semester teacher review. It really is a struggle for us not to go back and revise, and while revision at an early stage is wonderful for essays, short stories, and journalism, it's unfortunately one of those helpful things that isn't at all helpful in a novel. Still, I'm glad that you're progressing now.

  15. Miranda- It's interesting how the classes we've taken up to this point have introduced us to so many things that are important to writing a novel, such as strong characters and dialogue, building worlds and scenes and structuring a plot. But at the same time, the writing process that those short, manageable assignments give us also create a mindset that's so restricting when we try to draft a novel. It's a hard wall to break through, but once you're on the other side, the words just start pouring out.

    Christina- Of course, the problem with writing a general post like I did is always that someone has a process that doesn't mesh. I've definitely gone back and read over my work before as well, and you're right, it is inspiring and reassuring to me. The product I've created is always better than I'd expected, even if it still needs work. The only times I absolutely cannot go back and reread is are when I'm struggling to get the words out as it is, and feeling discouraged with my work. At that point, I'll only see the flaws in my writing and feel worse. But when I'm confident? Read on!

    Alec- There's definitely a market for longer short stories - Cathy's 405 class even devoted a section to it last semester - but I'm glad that this class is helping you to avoid focus on the revision. Ultimately, I don't think there's a right or wrong length for authors to write: it all depends on the story they want to tell, and how long that story should be to tell it well and fully. Sometimes that's a novel, sometimes that's a page.

    Harley- First of all, I love your screen name. One of my favorite comic characters of all time. And now that I'm through being a fangirl, I know what you mean about having on and off days, as well as writing while you go. I've found that I have to adapt my revision process to the mood I'm in. If it's a good writing day, I can revise as I go and still type for pages and pages. If it's not, I have to force myself to put the words down without looking back.

    Aaron- Your screenplays are fantastic, and I wonder if the difference between screenplays and novels is having any effect on your writing process? I know the screenplays I wrote followed a different process. Even the structure of the pages is different, and just looking at the space left on the screenplay page went against my "fill the page with words" instincts and made me want to revise over and over. I really like your literary tumor metaphor. Ultimately, I don't think revising while you work is a terrible thing to never be done, as long as you can do that revision without coming to a standstill.

    Spencer- Caps lock is cruise control for AWESOME. And now with that out of my system, I like your top three lessons and especially the analogies you made in describing the latter two. Anyone capable of writing seven novels in a week probably isn't human, and should be taken out and shot in any case. I like your bit and about endurance and admittance especially. I hope the class is reading everyone's comments, because your lessons are definitely worth spreading.

  16. I entered this class knowing that the novel I would create was not going to be very good, not even an ounce of good, it would probably be trash. Why should I think it would be any different in this course as opposed to writing classes in short-fiction or poetry? Even in those classes, the writer is able to do more in terms of editing because the size of the work is more manageable and better fits the timeframe of the class, but I don’t think that means the work is really any better. The first draft, the third draft, the ninth draft might all be garbage. Who knows how many times the greatest literature has been edited and revised. There is an illusion that tricks students when they start to compare their own work to the work they see in the novel. Why are my words not like these words? Am I doing something wrong? Quality has been something that I have set aside in this course while working on my novel. Editing chunks at a time before the entire story has been drafted seems like it would be counterproductive and may cause the writer to lose steam and momentum. Because of this indifference I have created toward quality, I am freer to create my characters, their situations and the environments in which the drama happens. I know novels take, sometimes upwards of years, to write, so why should I be worried about the quality of my novel in its “newborn” draft-state?

    Essentially, I have not had trouble with the urge to go back and revise old words as opposed to writing new words. One way in which I achieved this is by over creating the world of the novel. My novel concept has about every ridiculous thematic element in it: abductions, aliens, a serial killer, ghosts, sex, suicide, drugs, a hell-and-brimstone-apocalypse cult, a mushroom cult of children, space travel, parrots encoded with cryptic information, etc. Now, obviously, all of these elements are impermanent. Their purpose is to enhance the verisimilitude of the world in my own mind; I find that the more in the world of your novel you have, the more springboards you have when you feel stuck or your plot is static. Remove elements as you find they no longer fit. Just through the presence of a particular character or scene in your story, another, maybe stronger, idea will appear or an old one will be enhanced. It’s also fun to think about yourself as a demi god over your novel realm. You are the one that can make anything happen. In the end, I must distract myself with absurdity to keep pushing through and writing new words, only then does the urge to revise step aside.